Old habits die hard, which is why Kenley Jansen peeked at the Camelback Ranch radar-gun reading after the first pitch of his spring training debut Sunday, a 90-mph cut-fastball that opened a 12-pitch, scoreless third inning in the Dodgers’ 6-3 exhibition win over the Texas Rangers.
“I don’t want to do that no more,” the Dodgers closer said. “I probably peek at the first pitch, see where I’m at. Sometimes the radar gun’s going to get you. I learned my lesson. It got me in trouble last year.
“I wasn’t ready, tried to create velocity … next thing you know, I didn’t have the life on my ball no more. The radar gun is overrated to me. It’s more for the fans, probably. Hitters will tell you.”
Told after he exited the game that his signature pitch clocked between 89-92 mph, Jansen was pleased.
“That’s good,” said Jansen, whose 2019 spring debut came 12 days earlier than his 2017 debut. “First game, that’s the normal me probably in spring training. My spring training started in March this time rather than April.”
Jansen, 31, barely picked up a baseball in February 2018. That was by design after the right-hander’s heavy workload in 2017, when Jansen threw 85 innings across 78 appearances in the regular season and postseason for a team that extended Houston to seven games in the World Series.
As he began to ramp up for the season, Jansen strained a hamstring. He struggled pitching through the discomfort, his velocity dipping and his ERA rising to 5.59 ERA with three blown saves in five opportunities and three homers allowed in the first month.
Fans were obsessed with Jansen’s velocity drop. The closer let it become a distraction.
Jansen, with the help of pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, ironed out his mechanical difficulties and regained his All-Star form in early May. He had a 1.41 ERA in 41 appearances from May 1-Aug. 7, converting 29 of 30 save opportunities and lowering his season ERA to 2.15.
Then Jansen’s heart started racing in the high altitude of Colorado. He sat out two weeks and pitched the rest of an uneven season —his 3.01 ERA was more than twice his ERA of 1.32 in 2017 — while doctors tinkered with his heart medication.
Jansen underwent a second heart ablation procedure in November — his first was after the 2012 season — and, at the advice of his doctors, lost 25 pounds over the winter with more cardio work and a better diet.
The 6-foot-5 Jansen, now a much leaner 250 pounds, threw six bullpen sessions before reporting to camp and several live batting-practice sessions leading up to Sunday. He feels far more ready for the regular season than he did in 2018.
After Hunter Pence reached on an error Sunday, Jansen got Willie Calhoun to fly to right, struck out Nomar Mazara with a high-and-tight cutter and got Matt Davidson to line out to third.
“I felt great,” Jansen said. “I’m working on something right now to not muscle up too early, to kind of ease into it so the ball can get out of my hand and that spin rate can come up. … Just try to stay behind the ball, focus more on my legs, and then the arm speed will come when you generate power with your legs.”
Buehler’s day on
Walker Buehler threw off a bullpen mound Sunday for the first time in two weeks and only the second time this spring, the early part of a plan to “slow-play” the hard-throwing right-hander whose workload doubled from 2017 to 2018.
Roberts said Buehler, who threw 20 pitches, would need “a couple more bullpens” and a live-batting practice session before pitching in an exhibition game.
To make the four spring starts necessary to build his endurance to pitch five or six innings by April 1, the fifth game of the regular season, Buehler would need to pitch in a game by March 12. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill each made four starts last spring, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda made five, and Clayton Kershaw made six.
“I'm confident I'll be ready to go,” Buehler said. “The way that I throw the ball, I feel that I can get going pretty quick, and once I get into games is all relative at some point. I felt good. The velocity is fine. I’m right where I need to be.”
Roberts believes Buehler’s sound mechanics and aggressive throwing approach will allow him to be ready for the season. Buehler agrees.