On the morning after Kenley Jansen surrendered a home run in his third consecutive appearance, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts gave his closer a day off. Roberts intended to avoid using Jansen in Sunday’s series finale against San Diego, hoping Jansen could return in more effective form Tuesday in Texas.
“Two days will be great for him,” Roberts said before the game.
The last month has been a challenge for Jansen. He missed 11 days with symptoms related to an irregular heartbeat. Upon his return from the disabled list, he has given up four home runs, and he blew a save Saturday, which forced extra innings.
Both Roberts and Jansen have seen imprecise execution of Jansen’s signature cut fastball. Jansen struggled to produce sufficient velocity on the pitch earlier in the season, but his problem recently has involved generating the necessary movement.
Jansen has been effective this season, with 32 saves and a 2.83 earned-run average, but still below his peak performance in 2016 and 2017, when he posted a 1.58 ERA. His peripheral numbers are also discouraging: After striking out 14 batters per nine innings from 2016 to 2017, he is down to 10.2 strikeouts per nine this season.
The increased rate of contact has made Jansen more prone to home runs. He has given up 10 this season. He permitted nine over 2016 and 2017.
In Saturday’s ninth inning, Padres catcher Austin Hedges crushed a belt-high, 93-mph cutter for a homer. Jansen was penalized on similarity misplaced pitches in two ill-fated outings against St. Louis earlier in the week.
Jansen has leaned on his cutter en route to three consecutive All-Star game appearances. But he has experimented with a slider in the last two years and has become more reliant on a two-seam fastball. Jansen has thrown sinkers 17.48% of the time in August, according to Brooks Baseball.
Roberts suggested Jansen could benefit from mixing up his arsenal.
“There’s something to predictability,” Roberts said. “Any time any player is predictable, then your margin for error gets smaller. When you’re not executing as much as you’re used to, yeah, you open yourself up, certainly.
“Guys with Kenley look up in the zone, and right-handers look out over [the plate]. To be able to pitch to different quadrants, I think that’s a conversation I know Kenley is open to. To keep a hitter honest, to open that up, is a thought.”