Stephen Fife a Pleasant Surprise for Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013

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Stephen Fife a Pleasant Surprise for Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013

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Stephen Fife has been a stabilizer of sorts for the Dodgers.

COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Dodgers had eight proven, veteran starting pitchers worthy of rotation spots back in spring training. But no one talked about Stephen Fife.

Now, Fife might be the team's best option for a No. 5 starter.

Fife, acquired in 2011 with catcher Tim Federowicz and minor-league right-handed reliever Juan Rodriguez for former Dodgers prospect Trayvon Robinson from the Boston Red Sox (Robinson went to the Seattle Mariners), has been nothing but fantastic for the team this season -- and it's surprising to many.

When the trade was made, I was staunchly against it. Now, it's a clear win for the Dodgers, even if Federowicz never hits enough to be more than a backup and Rodriguez never makes the majors. Federowicz was the "prize" in that deal, but Fife is clearly the best player the Dodgers received.

The 26-year-old is enjoying success despite spending two separate stints on the disabled list for the same injury -- right shoulder bursitis. While his sparkling ERA (2.47) suggests a dominant pitcher, his fielding independent pitching (3.74) suggests he's been at least a tick above-average.

Fife was considered no more than a fifth starter or long-reliever, and that's still true. But the fact he's throwing quality innings for the Dodgers (as has Chris Capuano, recently) mitigates the need for another starting pitcher. The Dodgers didn't land a pitcher of any type at the trade deadline, outside of signing Brian Wilson.

The biggest knock against Fife for his career has been his fringe-average velocity. He's averaging 89.4 mph on his fastball this season. That's not bad, and it's better than Capuano's 88.8 mph and now-former Dodgers P Ted Lilly's 87.2 mph. His curve ball has been his best off-speed pitch, as he's thrown it 28.8 percent of the time for a FanGraphs value of 3.2.

Fife isn't going to blow hitters away, but his pitchability is how he gets major-league hitters out. Come playoff time, the Dodgers aren't going to need a fifth starter and having a guy like Fife -- a rookie -- as a long man out of the 'pen could be invaluable.

To say Fife has been an unsung hero would be a bit much, but he's been a definite surprise and could be a key piece for the Dodgers down the stretch with the team missing Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett.

He won't be mistaken for Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke anytime soon, but Fife's quality innings this season should not go unnoticed.

Fife was optioned back to Triple-A on Aug. 5 in more of a procedural move than anything. Capuano will probably get the next shot when the No. 5 spot in the rotation comes up, but Fife will be waiting in the wings for his chance if Capuano falters.

A lot has to go right when a team wins 32 of 39 games. Getting contributions from guys like Fife, who has gone 3-1 in his four starts during this streak, go a long way to help the team win.

Dustin Nosler has followed the Dodgers from Northern California all his life. He's the founder of Feelin' Kinda Blue, a Dodger blog. He also co-hosts "Dugout Blues," a weekly Dodger podcast. Find him on Twitter @FeelinKindaBlue.

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