The Dodgers are staring at a scenario in which they could be without closer Kenley Jansen until the final week of the regular season.
As his team’s bullpen suffered in his absence for the second day in a row, Jansen spent Friday in Los Angeles undergoing tests on his irregular heartbeat, which necessitated a hospitalization the day before in Denver.
The team placed Jansen on the 10-day disabled list, but manager Dave Roberts indicated the team was unclear how long Jansen would be sidelined. Roberts acknowledged that if Jansen was required to take blood thinners to correct his heart issues, he could miss four to six weeks.
“His health obviously is most important,” Roberts said before a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. “Whatever the doctors have to do to protect him... . To see it as 10 days, that would be great. But if it doesn’t, for the right reasons, for his health, yeah, we have to prepare for that.”
Jansen has experienced several episodes related to his heart, two of them in the thin air of Denver. He was prescribed blood thinners in July 2011 and missed a month. He missed three weeks in 2012 when given a similar prescription. He experienced altitude-related symptoms on a visit to Coors Field in 2015 but was cleared to pitch soon after.
The Dodgers are hopeful for a reprise of the situation in 2015. But they must prepare for the more troubling scenario. Roberts and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman indicated the team was still gathering information on Jansen’s condition. They intended to provide a more clarified picture Saturday.
“There are things out there, as a far as a timeline,” Roberts said. “But I haven’t heard definitively, as far as any time.”
Jansen stumbled at the start of the season, with the velocity of his cutter dipping into the upper 80s and opposing hitters feasting on him. He recovered to earn a third consecutive appearance in the All-Star game. He entered Friday leading the National League with 32 saves, while producing a 2.15 ERA.
With Jansen out, Roberts indicated he would use a “closer by committee,” although the two members of the committee are likely to be Scott Alexander and Kenta Maeda. Roberts described Alexander as the team’s best available reliever, and said he would use him in key moments, rather than just the ninth inning. Maeda is expected to rejoin the bullpen after starting Friday.
Maeda excelled in the bullpen last October, and the Dodgers planned to relocate him there again down the stretch. His presence in the starting rotation is possibly superfluous, with the team employing six starters and Hyun-Jin Ryu inching closer to returning from a torn groin muscle. Ryu could be activated as early as next week, and Alex Wood will come off the disabled list against San Francisco either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Maeda furthered his case for moving to the bullpen Friday. In his first 17 outings in 2018, he posted a 3.13 ERA and gave up six home runs. In his next three starts his ERA swelled to 6.88 and he allowed four homers. The trend looked more encouraging against the Rockies.
Maeda logged 51/3 innings of three-run baseball. He gave up a two-run homer to the second batter he faced, DJ LeMahieu, but settled down for a relatively useful start. Yet the bullpen is desperate for his arrival. Roberts was forced to use Zac Rosscup for a multi-inning stint Friday, only to see Rosscup serve up the decisive home run to Ryan McMahon in the seventh inning.
After the game, Roberts indicated Maeda moving to the bullpen was “on the table.” The subject has not been broached with the player yet. Maeda would prefer to start, for reasons both of pride and pocketbook. His contract features incentives based on starting. He earned a $1.5-million bonus on Friday for making his 20th start of the season. The contract features similar bonuses for 25 starts and 30 starts.
The Dodgers might not have the luxury of using Maeda anywhere but the bullpen. Maeda declined to reveal his feelings on the subject.
“It’s hard to say, until I have that conversation,” Maeda said through his interpreter, Will Ireton.
Roberts acknowledged the team could accelerate the return of former top prospect Julio Urias, who is rehabbing from shoulder surgery and threw 12/3 innings for class-A Rancho Cucamonga on Friday. Urias gave up three hits and a run, walking a batter and striking out two. His fastball hovered between 91 and 94 mph.
The team had hoped to expand Urias’ usage to four innings before activating him. With Jansen out, Roberts acknowledged that Urias was a “viable option” to arrive sooner as a one-inning reliever.
Friedman flew into Denver to meet the team Friday. Roberts intended to huddle with Friedman and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to sort out the mess created by Jansen’s absence.