Miguel Vargas, Andrew Heaney bolster October cases in Dodgers win over Padres

Los Angeles Dodgers' Miguel Vargas hits a two-run single during the sixth inning of the team's baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
The Dodgers' Miguel Vargas hits a two-run single during the sixth inning against the San Diego Padres on Thursday in San Diego. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

It’s dress rehearsal week for the Dodgers.

And in a 5-2 win against the San Diego Padres on Thursday night, they witnessed some intriguing performances from a couple of players with yet-to-be determined roles.

Andrew Heaney shined in his first appearance out of the bullpen, pitching four scoreless innings as a bulk reliever. A new-look bullpen without a designated closer once again delivered, stringing together four more spotless innings in a series rubber match at Petco Park.

And perhaps the biggest wild card of all, rookie outfielder Miguel Vargas, produced the night’s biggest hit, giving renewed life to his case of making the postseason roster with a tiebreaking two-run single in the sixth inning.

“His name is certainly in the mix to make the postseason roster, absolutely,” manager Dave Roberts said.

Now, the team has a week to figure out such decisions.

With everything but home-field advantage in the World Series locked up, the last stretch of the regular season will be something of a test run for the Dodgers (108-48), before they finalize their roster for next month’s National League Division Series.

On Thursday, that meant using Heaney as a reliever for the first time this year, bringing the left-hander out of the bullpen behind opener Brusdar Graterol in anticipation of a likely role change for the playoffs — when he’ll likely be squeezed out of the rotation behind Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson and Tony Gonsolin.

“Andrew has been a starter his entire career, so to give him a little opportunity to come out of the ’pen and see what that’s like, feel what that’s like just made a lot of sense,” Roberts said.

While Graterol was charged with two runs after Trea Turner and Chris Taylor failed to field a two-out grounder from Brandon Drury in the first, Heaney looked sharp in a scoreless four-inning outing.

He got into trouble in his first inning, facing a bases-loaded jam, but struck out Manny Machado to retire the side. From there, he retired nine of his final 10 batters to lower his ERA to 2.88 and also racked up six strikeouts to surpass 100 total punchouts on the season.

“I think probably with just how we’re gonna potentially shape things in the playoffs, I’m sure that was part of just getting acclimated,” Heaney said, adding that he’d be comfortable coming out of the bullpen come October if needed.

Dodgers pitcher Andrew Heaney throws during the first inning.
Dodgers pitcher Andrew Heaney delivers. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Vargas’ situation is far less clear.

The highly touted prospect hasn’t played much since being called up when rosters expanded at the start of September, collecting only 40 plate appearances in 12 games before Thursday.

He was only added to the lineup for the series finale after Trayce Thompson was scratched late because of a personal matter (Roberts said Thompson should be back with the team on Friday).

But in the second inning, Vargas put the Dodgers on the board with a sacrifice fly. Then in the sixth, moments after Freddie Freeman had tied the score with an RBI single, the 22-year-old Cuban native came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.

After falling behind Padres reliever Pierce Johnson 1-and-2, Vargas fouled off a fastball, took one low curveball, then got just enough of the barrel on another, lining a two-run single back up the middle to collect his second and third RBIs of the night, his most in a major league game this season.

“It was one of those at-bats where I was really focused,” Vargas said through an interpreter. “Really knew what I needed to do.”

The same can’t be said for his path to a postseason roster spot.

While Vargas is still only batting .195 in 13 games with the Dodgers, he has become an increasingly attractive alternative amid September slumps from Joey Gallo (five for his last 40), Cody Bellinger (seven for his last 40) and Thompson (six for his last 40) in the outfield.

Utility infielder Hanser Alberto, who is three for his last 26, hasn’t run away with what would likely be the team’s final position player roster spot, either.

Roberts acknowledged that it could be difficult for Vargas to unseat one of the Dodgers’ more established big-leaguers come October, but also noted his bat-to-ball ability could prove valuable coming off the bench — a skill that has translated to a four-for-10 mark with six RBIs when Vargas has batted with runners in scoring position.

While Vargas knows the opportunity is out of his hands, he conceded it’s been on his mind lately too.

“Of course,” he said. “I want to be there.”

For now, all he can do is offer his best audition.

Even in the final days of the regular season, plenty of important decisions for the Dodgers still abound.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.