In the first half of 2013, the Dodgers learned the importance of a great bullpen. Stocked with a motley crew of cast-offs and rookies, the bullpen was dreadful — costing a struggling Dodgers team multiple games.
Eventually, however, the Dodgers cut loose some dead weight (Matt Gurrier), relegated scrubs to lesser roles (Brandon League), relied more on young studs (Chris Withrow and Paco Rodriguez) and nailed some free agent signings (Carlos Marmol and Brian Wilson). The result was one of the best bullpens in baseball after the all-star break.
Heading into 2014, it was assumed that the second half of 2013 would carry over — most of the key players were returning and they even added two solid contributors in Jamey Wright and Chris Perez. Also, while Don Mattingly had an unbelievable fascination with Brandon League in 2013 (allowing him to start the season as the closer), that had also dissipated and so one of the best closers in the league — Kenley Jansen — was given the job from Day 1.
And yet, despite all of this, 14 games into the season, the Dodgers’ bullpen is already in shambles.
In 10 appearances, Kenley Jansen has already blown two saves (in six attempts) in addition to a loss suffered after entering a tie game. Of his 10 appearances, Jansen has allowed runs in four games — good for an unimpressive 4.50 ERA.
If there’s one positive for Jansen, it’s that his job really isn’t in jeopardy. Unfortunately, the reason is because the guy who’s next in line — Brian Wilson — has been less impressive and injured thus far.
In two appearances totaling one inning pitched, Wilson has allowed three runs (two earned) while blowing his only save opportunity (he entered the game in the eighth inning as the set-up man).
So is there any good news in all of this?
For me, the answer is yes. When I watched Wilson collapse against the Padres a couple weeks ago, I could tell one batter in that his stuff was all over the place, he lacked control and nobody was fooled. To sum it up, I was terrified.
With Jansen, however, that’s just not the case. Yeah, he’s blown two saves and lost another game, but even last night — his stuff was still there.
Last night he started the inning off by blowing Hector Sanchez away with a combination of 96 MPH fastballs and nasty cutters. Next was Angel Pagan, who hit a dribbler off Jansen’s leg for an infield single — it goes down as a hit, but it was far from deserved.
Third up was Brandon Belt, whose double knocked Pagan in for the game-tying run. One out and Jansen has already blown the save, but even with Belt’s double I think there’s reason for optimism because it’s not like the ball was smoked down the line — if anything it looked like he was late on the pitch and was fortunate to sneak it inside third.
Now, with the save blown and the game tied, Jansen still had some clean-up left to do. Next up was Pablo Sandoval, who suffered the same fate that Sanchez did — blown away via strikeout. After Buster Posey was walked intentionally, Hunter Pence came to the plate and was seduced into a lazy fly ball to right that ended the inning.
My point is simple: Jansen has been shaky, maybe a bit unlucky, but watching the guy pitch it’s clear he still has the potential to be just as dominant as he was last season. With a little time, a little luck and a little more confidence, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll return to the all-star form we’ve become accustomed to.
Here’s one final thing to consider: last May, Jansen appeared in 14 games, pitching 12.2 innings (still wasn’t the closer at this point). Over that span, Jansen allowed seven earned runs (4.97 ERA), lost three games and had one blown save.
How did he recover?
By allowing just seven earned runs the rest of the season. In four months.
Over his next 50 innings, Jansen posted an ERA of 1.26, saved 26 games in 29 attempts, struck out 74 batters (K/9 of 13.32) and allowed just 38 runners to reach base (WHIP of 0.76).
The moral of the story: Jansen has been through this before and he’ll get through it again. The bullpen has been a major concern thus far, but give this unit time and there’s no doubt they’ll emerge as one of the best groups in the league. When Wilson recovers and Jansen regains his confidence, the outcome of a 7th-inning Dodger lead will no longer be in doubt.
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