After allowing the game-tying run on Tuesday night and the game-winning Home Run on Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Manager Don Mattingly must figure out what is wrong with Closer Kenley Jansen.
Jansen, who has been dominant over his career for the Dodgers, has simply not looked like his dominant self over the past two games against the Detroit Tigers and hasn’t look quite right all season. His fastball is still fast, his cutter still cuts. That hasn’t been the problem. Not even Jansen can diagnosis what went on against the Tigers.
First, let’s begin with the obvious: Victor Martinez absolutely owns Kenley Jansen. In the 9th inning of Tuesday’s game the Dodgers had a 2-1 lead in the 9th inning as Jansen entered the game. Ian Kinsler, who was fantastic agains the Dodgers, legged out a double to start the inning. Jansen shut down the Tigers, including striking out Miguel Cabrera, until he got to Martinez. With two outs Martinez lined a single up the middle, allowing Kinsler to score. The Dodgers went on to win the game on a Carl Crawford double; however, Jansen had blown the save. It happens. However, Martinez wasn’t done.
In Wednesday nights game the Dodgers made their own furious comeback in the 9th inning, scoring three runs in the frame after being down 6-3 entering the inning. Joe Nathan, the Tigers closer, got lit up by the Blue Crew and Mattingly brought in Jansen once again to freeze the Tigers and allow his boys to have a chance at another walk-off. It was not to be. Martinez, the first batter of the inning, cranked a fastball from Jansen high into the right field bleachers and the Dodgers went on to lose the game 7-6. It was Jansen’s first loss since May of last season.
After the last two nights the question is easy to ask: what is wrong with Kenley Jansen? For what it’s worth, Don Mattingly has no real concerns.
“No real concerns,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. “Kenley’s stuff is good. It’s coming out good. He’s healthy. I think we’re going to be OK.”
While I’m glad that Mattingly has no concerns, Dodger fans do. My answer to this question is simple: Kenley Jansen was simply overmatched by a very good hitter in Martinez AND he misses the comfort of pitching to A.J. Ellis.
A.J. Ellis, who is sidelined 4-6 weeks with a torn meniscus, is one of the best catchers in MLB due to his ability to call a game and manage a pitching staff. As a pitcher it’s incredibly important to have a catcher with whom you have a good rapport. It’s difficult to transition away from a catcher that knows your abilities inside and out and knows exactly which pitch you should throw in a certain situation. I have no doubts that A.J. Ellis would have managed the Jansen-Martinez duel much better than Tim Federowicz or Drew Butera. Not having A.J. Ellis catching is a bigger issue than most fans would like to believe. It’s a huge deal and it’s something that the Dodgers are going to need to deal with very quickly.
If the Dodgers want to get Jansen back on the right track quickly then they should (and I’m sure that they already have) have Ellis managing the pitchers meetings along with Federowicz, Butera, and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. I believe that the more A.J. Ellis is involved in the day-to-day meetings, the better off the young catchers and the current pitching staff will be, including Kenley Jansen.