Before Atlanta’s bats broke loose in the ninth to turn a 1-1 tie into a 5-1 win, the Braves and Dodgers were playing a tight, mostly quiet game defined only by a pair of solo shot-producing mistakes from each starting pitcher. But after Walker Buehler recorded the first 15 outs for the Dodgers, he began to falter, allowing a pair of base hits at the start of the sixth and pushing Dave Roberts to quickly go to his bullpen. That’s when Brusdar Graterol emerged, and in his third scoreless inning of the postseason, he mercilessly smothered the Braves on just six seemingly effortless pitches.
It’s that “effortless” part that is key to the 22-year-old’s allure. On multiple occasions in the few minutes he was on screen, Joe Buck and John Smoltz described him as throwing “the easiest 100 you’ll ever see,” referring not to the difficulty of hitting his blistering sinker but the smoothness with which it is thrown. While your stereotypical flamethrower has a delivery imbued with violence, intensity, and extreme motion, Graterol hits triple digits with baffling simplicity. It almost looks like a mistake when you see the radar gun’s measurement, but Atlanta’s hitters will surely be the first to tell you that there’s nothing fraudulent about this kid.
It took maybe two minutes, real time, for Graterol to completely neutralize the inning’s leadoff hits. On his very first pitch, he induced a harmless flyout from Dansby Swanson. Then he got Cristian Pache—who had walked two times already—to strike out on three straight pitches: 100 mph inside looking, 99 mph just a little bit lower, swinging, and then a gorgeous 88 mph slider at which Pache uselessly waved. Having sufficiently embarrassed his fellow rookie, Graterol threw an off-speed ball just a bit high to Nick Markakis, then fielded a comebacker at the mound to swiftly end the danger, looking thrilled with himself as he strutted into the dugout.
Anyone who can throw like Graterol does is going to be inherently entertaining to watch, but it’s that extra little celebration at the end that helps make this kid uniquely compelling. Though he’s been solid for the Dodgers in his bullpen role all season, Graterol more fully entered the public eye with his last playoff appearance in Game 2 of the NLDS. There, he allowed a long fly ball to center field off the bat of Fernando Tatis Jr., but exploded in a joyful frenzy when Cody Bellinger brought it back from over the fence. Graterol’s equipment-throwing, kiss-blowing theatrics drew the ire of none other than Manny Machado. But even if he doesn’t always endear himself to opposing players, Graterol’s bright-eyed love for the game is a necessary ingredient in a veteran Dodgers group that has had too many collective brushes with disappointment,
“He’s probably the most popular player in the clubhouse,” Dave Roberts said last month. “His youthful enthusiasm is certainly refreshing.”
It’s hard to believe that multiple teams willingly passed on a kid this charismatic and filled with potential, but had his career gone in one of a few different directions this offseason, Graterol wouldn’t be in the spotlight right now. Initially signed by the Twins out of Venezuela, he made his debut for Minnesota during September call-ups last year but soon found himself caught up in the midst of the Mookie Betts trade negotiations. The Twins made the admittedly fair call to exchange Graterol as part of a package for Kenta Maeda, but even though the Dodgers planned to include the reliever as part of their offer for Betts, the Red Sox reportedly looked at his medical history and decided they weren’t interested because his past injuries implied he could never be a starter.
The Dodgers claim that they still have not ruled that out, but even if Graterol never goes long distances, they still have to be excited about what they almost-accidentally stumbled onto. As evidenced by Blake Treinen and Jake McGee’s shortcomings last night in the ninth—as well as the usually lethal Kenley Jansen’s shakiness after a bout with COVID earlier this year—L.A.’s bullpen is far from a sure thing. But when Graterol has shown up so far this postseason, two things have been true: The other team isn’t going to score, and he’s going to put on a show.