On Apr. 7, the Los Angeles Dodgers saw a glimpse of their future.
When No. 54 came trotting out of the bullpen against the San Diego Padres, it took the big right-hander only 11 pitches to retire the Padres 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth.
For the season, he has allowed only eight earned runs during thirty-one-and-one-third innings pitched, which is good enough for a 2.30 ERA. Overall, opponents are hitting at just a .194 clip.
When facing runners in scoring position with two outs, opponents are hitting .118 with only two RBI.
More impressively, the cores of teams' lineups have not been able to touch him. He has faced the three through five hitters 26 times this season, and has surrendered just three hits and four RBI.
He is emerging as one of the premier setup men in the game.
Prior to 2009, he had never even pitched above the Double-A level. In fact, the last time he posted an ERA below 3.50 was his first season, 2001, in Rookie Ball.
Who is he?
None other than Ronald Belisario.
The 26-year-old out of Maracay, Venezuela has been a steady hand in relief for the Dodgers this season. General Manager Ned Coletti signed Belisario on Jan. 13 to a minor-league contract.
Joining the Dodgers in their first season of Cactus League play, Belisario pitched himself onto the club during spring training. Actually, Belisario was sent back to Minor League camp during the first cuts. However, it had nothing to do with his performance on the mound.
Nobody had even seen him throw a competitive pitch yet.
It turns out there were problems with his visa, which delayed his arrival nearly two weeks.
He spent most of his spring working out in Minor League camp until surfacing for the final week of spring training on the big league level. In fact, to give you an idea of his uphill battle, he was issued jersey No. 81.
That’s not exactly a number they give top prospects.
In just three appearances over the final week, while totaling only five innings pitched, Belisario was able to win over pitching coach Rick Honeycutt by never surrendering a run.
The quick rise of Belisario was no fluke. He has put in his time in the minors, making over 150 appearances. He began his time as a starting pitcher in the Florida Marlins organization, where he signed 10 years ago. He was sidelined for the entire 2005-06 seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
His past two seasons have been spent in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, mainly pitching in Double-A Altoona, where his ERA was above 4.00.
Belisario told MLB.com about his recent improvement and success, citing that, “The big difference is using the two-seamer to come inside on left-handed hitters.”
The two-seam fastball has functioned as perfect compliment to his repertoire. The 6’3", 240-pound right-hander throws a 94+ MPH fastball that sinks like a splitter. He also uses a hard slider to bring a slight change of speed.
The main weakness of Belisario is when his normally sinking fastball levels out. This causes the ball to elevate in the strike zone and exposes Belisario to hard-hit balls.
As he becomes more refined in the majors, he will learn to pitch around the knees and induce more ground balls.
Fortunately, Belisario has already shown a willingness to learn and adjust.
On Apr. 15, he took over for Hong Chih-Kuo against the San Francisco Giants. Entering with runners on first and third and nobody out, Belisario hung a slider over the heart of the plate to Aaron Rowand, who smashed a three-run home run.
It was the first run given up by Belisario in the majors.
The next night, Belisario found himself again facing Rowand with two runners on base and no one out.
Belisario learned from his mistake the previous night.
He forced Rowand to roll over on a sinking fastball (at the knees, of course) and induced a weak ground ball to Rafael Furcal for the double play.
The addition of Belisario further reflects the exceptional job GM Ned Coletti has done with the Dodger roster this season
Dodgers scout Ron Rizzi came upon Belisario in a Venezuelan winter league earlier this year. The decision to bring him into camp has paid off immensely, and if Belisario keeps throwing like he can, there is a good chance he will be in St. Louis for All-Star weekend in early July.
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