SAN DIEGO — Throughout nearly all of his time as the closer the worry about the bullpen has been how will the Dodgers get the ball to Kenley Jansen at the end of the game. But so far in 2018 the main problem has been Jansen himself, the latest a command-free ninth inning that saw him blow a two-run lead.
“Right now, he’s not right, with the way the ball is coming out of his hand,” manager Dave Roberts said after Tuesday’s extra-inning win over the Padres.
“When you have a two-run lead and have the best closer in baseball you don’t expect to use three other relievers,” Roberts said.
But the problem is that Jansen, who owns a career 2.16 ERA with peripherals to match, hasn’t been the best closer in baseball this season. Far from it.
The problems have ranged this season for Jansen from velocity — down 3-4 mph in his first game of the season, allowing a tie-breaking home run in the ninth — to command, the latter manifesting in two walks and a three-run game-tying home run in Arizona on April 2, in what ended up an extra-inning loss.
On Tuesday night it wasn’t so much the pitch speed for Jansen, but rather his cutter — the bread and butter pitch he has thrown 88% of the time in his career — wasn’t cutting.
“The velocity was good but the characteristics of his cutter just weren’t doing what it typically does,” Roberts said. “There were some good throws but there were others that were straight as a string. The one to Hosmer, the one to Villanueva.”
Eric Hosmer hit a solo home run to pull the Padres within a run, then Christian Villanueva followed with a near home run to center, only to have Chris Taylor grant Jansen a temporary reprieve with a spectacular catch.
“Today I missed location. I missed a lot,” Jansen said. “I just have to find it and be consistent.
“I just got to get better. I can’t let that get in my mind, what’s wrong with me or this and that. It’s early in the year. I’m never going to let that get to the confidence in my mind. No hitter is going to get in my mind. I have confidence in myself, I will find it. It’s a matter of time.”
Jansen has an 8.10 ERA and has allowed six runs so far in 2018 after allowing 11 runs all of last season. He last allowed six runs in a month in July 2015.
Jansen said he will need to watch video on Wednesday to help deduce the problems, but he suspects he is not fully extending on his delivery to home plate.
“Once I extend that’s when I have my best cut. Probably today that’s the one thing I misfired on,” Jansen said. “I just have to be consistent, stay behind the ball and make my spots. That’s when the ball cuts.”
Should the Dodgers find themselves in a position to possibly sweep San Diego on Wednesday night Roberts said Jansen would get the ball again.
“We’re going to need him if we want to accomplish what we need to accomplish,” Roberts said. “If the situation calls for it we’re going to run him back out there.”
“Tomorrow’s another day,” Jansen said. “Just gotta go back out there.”
The Dodgers will send Kenta Maeda to the mound on Wednesday looking for the series sweep in yet another 7:10 p.m. PT start. The Padres will turn to Luis Perdomo, back from serving a five-game suspension for his role in last week’s brawl with the Rockies.