The name of Kenley Jansen was in black ink on the lineup card of Dodgers bench coach Bob Geren on Friday morning. The Dodgers had not used their closer all spring, but he was slated for his Cactus League debut, one of two outings scheduled for Jansen during spring training.
Jansen has thrown a football around the complex at Camelback Ranch, and he has thrown his voice into the debates about pitch clocks and fiscal austerity. But he has not thrown a baseball in a game against a major-league opponent. That was supposed to change Friday.
Except before the game against Kansas City, as Jansen warmed up, he felt tightness in his right hamstring, manager Dave Roberts explained. The Dodgers scratched him from the lineup, and Jansen left before reporters were made aware of the injury.
Jansen did not require an MRI, and Roberts indicated he could return to action in a minor-league game Monday. His new target for a big-league game is Thursday.
“It just tightened up,” Roberts said. “Not a strain or anything like that. He’ll get treatment tomorrow.”
And so Jansen’s spring on ice continues. He logged 85 innings between the regular season and the postseason in 2017. The Dodgers expect him to shoulder another hefty load this year. There is little interest in expending Jansen’s energy in meaningless exhibition games, and the team trusts him to sharpen the usage of his cutter in time for opening day.
Jansen is not the only reliever to work a light schedule. Josh Fields has yet to pitch in a game. Tony Cingrani made his spring debut with a scoreless innings against the Royals.
Jansen has never hidden his disinterest in spring training. Cingrani can relate. As a high-leverage reliever with Cincinnati, he loathed pitching in the low-intensity environment created by day games in the Cactus League.
“I’m going to pitch worse, because the atmosphere sucks,” Cingrani said. “To be a closer and then have to pitch in non-meaningful games is tough. You’ve just got to get around it. You’ve got to get yourself jacked up in a different way.”
Jansen has found an even better solution: not pitching at all. He appeared in a minor-league setting Monday, and shook his head after a farmhand cracked a double against him on his first pitch. “Typical spring training,” was how Jansen described it.
His results during the regular season are far better. Jansen responded to his $80 million offseason haul last year with the best campaign of his career: He led the National League with 41 saves, finished with a 1.32 earned-run average and posted a career-best 15.57-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The group around Jansen proved reliable, too. As a unit, the Dodgers ranked first in the NL in ERA (3.38), first in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.48-to-1), first in strand rate (78.2% of inherited runners left on base) and first in walks plus hits per inning (1.15).
After splurging on a new deal for Jansen two winters ago, the Dodgers opted to avoid major financial commitments toward the bullpen this offseason. Brandon Morrow, one of Jansen’s primary set-up men, departed for the Chicago Cubs. Tony Watson, one of the few reliable left-handed pitchers, signed with San Francisco.
As replacements, the Dodgers signed right-handed reliever Tom Koehler to a one-year contract and traded for left-hander Scott Alexander. Koehler may never throw a pitch for the Dodgers. He strained the anterior capsule in his right shoulder last week. The team has not revealed a timetable for his return, and Koehler’s arm remains in a sling.
Alexander, a sinker specialist acquired from Kansas City, led all relievers in ground ball percentage last season. He has a 4.91 ERA in four outings this spring.
“I’ve seen what we’ve expected,” Roberts said. “Heavy sinker. Attacking. Gets righties and lefties out. Puts the ball on the ground.”
The injury to Koehler created an opening in the bullpen competition. The Dodgers are likely to take five right-handers , a group which includes Jansen, Fields, Pedro Baez and Ross Stripling. The candidates for the final right-handed slot include Brock Stewart, who has been dealing with mechanical glitches, and Wilmer Font, who gave up six runs to the Cubs earlier this week.
The three left-handed candidates look like Alexander, Cingrani and Adam Liberatore, who gave up a two-run homer on Friday.
Saddle up the rookies
Scheduled to attend a rodeo Friday night as part of a team-building outing, the Dodgers veterans staged a fashion show featuring the rookies at their first big-league camp dressed as cowboys.
Matt Kemp and Justin Turner led the shopping spree. A few others “pitched in to foot the bill,” Roberts said.
Yusniel Diaz, an outfield prospect, was declared the winner of the runway contest. Roberts also revealed Diaz’s nickname: “Juice.”
“D.J. Peters was a close second,” Roberts said. “It was fun.”
Maeda calls his shot
In his first game as a Dodger, on April 6, 2016, Kenta Maeda swatted a home run. It was the second at-bat of his career. In his next 108 plate appearances, he produced only 11 more hits. None cleared the fence.
Maeda joked that slump would end in 2018.
“I think,” Maeda said through his interpreter, Will Ireton, “a miracle is about to happen soon.”