Kenley Jansen struggles, Dodgers not worried

Victor Decolongon

LOS ANGELES -- Kenley Jansen had a rough series for against the Tigers, thanks mostly to Victor Martinez. The Tigers designated hitter, playing first base and catcher in a National League park against the Dodgers, hit the game-tying RBI single in the ninth inning on Tuesday, then the game-winning home run on Wednesday.

Both came against Jansen.

"I talked about Victor last night. He's just a really good hitter," manager Don Mattingly said. "Today they were trying to get in on his hands. They were trying to get that ball in underneath him, and just didn't get it there. It's really a spot that you pay with him."

"It's tough, man. He's a tough hitter and kept battling. I feel like I executed, and one pitch I go in there and he took me deep. He kept fouling me off away and I tried to go in there to back him off," Jansen explained. "Nothing I can do about it. It's a tough series, but I can't worry about this. I just have to go now to Arizona and get it back together."

Jansen has allowed runs in consecutive appearances only five times in his career. This series against the Tigers was the first such time since June 29 and July 3, 2013.

"His stuff is good. I've seen a lot of guys, they have trouble one night it's always two in a row," Mattingly said. "I've seen Mo [Mariano Rivera] do it many times."

But Jansen bristled at the comparison to the all-time saves leader.

"I don't care about Mariano, man. I'm me," Jansen said. "These guys are tough. Victor is tough, that whole team is tough. There's a reason they go to the ALCS. They are one of the best teams in the American League."

Jansen has had a weird year to date, which is hard to quantify just 10 team games into the season. Jansen has pitched in seven of the games, and has yet to have a clean appearance, with nobody reaching base. In 26 of his 75 appearances in 2013 and 28 of his 65 games in 2012, Jansen pitched at least one inning without allowing a baserunner.

On one hand, Jansen has a 4.76 ERA and has allowed two home runs and three walks to his 29 batters faced. Then again, we are talking about only 29 batters faced.

On the other hand, Jansen also has 10 strikeouts and his velocity is up to 94.5 mph this season entering Wednesday (and his fastballs to Martinez registered from 94-96 mph), a career best and up two mph over 2013. Jansen, who had heart surgery to repair an irregular heartbeat after the 2012 season, cites his improved conditioning and full offseason as reasons for the early rise in his fastball speed.

With all the movement on his cut fastball, Jansen said he isn't having any trouble controlling it.

"I've been locating pretty well. I watched the tape, and I located that pitch [to Martinez]. Even on Austin Jackson I located that outside corner. It's like everything is just falling right now," Jansen said. "You just have go out there and keep competing. You can't give up."

To Jansen's point, eight of his 14 balls in play allowed have dropped for hits, a .571 batting average on balls in play well above both his career .266 mark and the 2014 MLB BABIP of .299.

Jansen has allowed both of his home runs this season — Mark Trumbo hit the other one, on March 23 in Sydney — in non-save situations. He has allowed two runs on six hits in 2⅔ innings those situations this season, with six strikeouts and a walk. In save situations this season Jansen has a 3.00 ERA in three games, with one run allowed (Tuesday night to Detroit) on four hits, with two walks and four strikeouts in three innings.

"To me, whenever Donnie wants me out there, I try to help the team win. That's all I worry about," Jansen said. "In that situation I just try to keep the team in the game, and hopefully we can walk-off the next inning. Whenever the phone rings, my expectation is to help the team win."

In his career, Jansen has a 2.32 ERA in save situations with 179 strikeouts in 112⅓ innings. In non-save situations, he has a 2.02 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 115⅔ innings.

Since the beginning of 2012, Jansen has a 2.53 ERA in save situations with 136 strikeouts in 81⅔ innings. In non-save situations during that span, he has a 2.10 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 55⅔ innings.

If we want to dig even deeper and look at only the times when Jansen was the anointed closer (from May 12 through the end of August 2012; and from June 11, 2013 to now), Jansen has a 2.60 ERA in non-save situations and a 1.90 ERA in save situations during those periods. But even that is skewed because four of the eight total runs Jansen has allowed in those 29 games in non-save situations came on Aug. 27, 2012 in Colorado, when Jansen experienced the irregular heartbeat and was shut down for over three weeks.

In 2013, Jansen did not allow a run in any of his 14 games in non-save situations after he took over the closer role in June.

Just about the only noticeable difference or decline in non-save situations is his walk rate, which from 2012-2014 is 6.2% of batters faced in save situations and 9.6% in non-save situations.

Jansen didn't walk anyone Tuesday or Wednesday.

"I feel good, man. I feel strong. Everybody is going to have their tough times," he said. "I had my tough series, and I just have to shake it off and put a stop to it."

"Kenley's stuff is good, it's coming out good, he's healthy," Mattingly added. "I think we're going to be okay."

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