While there are numerous factors which have contributed to the substandard performance of the Dodgers during the first three weeks of the season, none appear to be more disconcerting than the effectiveness of team closer Kenley Jansen.
Injuries can heal in time. Offenses can catch on fire. But when nobody can figure out why Jansen’s cutter isn’t working properly, there may be reasons for concern.
It could be a mental approach. Or maybe it’s an issue with his throwing mechanics. Or, heaven forbid, there’s some kind of injury which is affecting the way he throws.
“Today, I missed location and I missed by a lot,” Jansen said after the team’s 7-3 victory over the Padres late Tuesday evening. “I just have to find it and be consistent and I will be fine. But to Hosmer, that ball was down the middle. He got me.”
It was Jansen’s second blown save in four appearances, after having just one blown save in 42 chances last year. He was lucky not to get pinned with the loss thanks to a sensational, game-saving catch by center fielder Chris Taylor.
So far this year, Jansen has appeared in seven contests and has registered a whopping 8.10 ERA and a 1.650 WHIP over 6-2/3 innings thrown. He has already issued three walks after allowing just seven over the entirety of last season.
While there were occasions when he did miss location last year, he didn’t miss by much. He threw 68-1/3 innings over 65 appearances while posting a ridiculous 1.32 ERA and a 0.746 WHIP with 109 strikeouts. Last season his K/9 calculated to 14.4. At the present juncture, it’s sitting at 9.5—not horrible, but nowhere near the standards he has set in the past. Prior to this year, Jansen has never posted a season K/9 less than 13.0.
“It boils down to he is not executing like he normally does. I can’t speak to if it is mechanic, all I can tell you is what I see with my eyes. And his cutter is not doing what it used to do,” skipper Dave Roberts said in the post-game press conference.
Yet, while there have been some truly ugly moments for No. 74, there have also been a few impressive outings, which suggest that the problem is most likely not injury related. He struck out the side in impressive fashion while recording the save against the Giants on April 8. Additionally, he threw a perfect ninth frame against Oakland two days later to secure his second save of the year.
In the same breath, he took the loss after allowing a home run to Joe Panik on March 30 and got pounded by the Diamondbacks just three days later.
If it’s a long-term problem, the Dodgers don’t have an overwhelming number of arms which can step in and fill a prospective void. There are a few options—JT Chargois, Pedro Baez and Josh Fields, to name a few—however, neither of the three can match the potency of Jansen when he has his best stuff.
On a positive note, the offense, which has been less than desirable for the early part of the year, bailed out Jansen after Yasmani Grandal‘s double powered a four-run twelfth inning rally. The victory sealed the Dodgers first three-game winning streak of the young season; but the road to the playoffs could be a difficult one without the success of Jansen.
“I have confidence in myself that I will find it, it’s just a matter of time,” Jansen added after the game. “Hopefully I can get an opportunity tomorrow, because tonight, that’s not who I am.”