Kenley Jansen replaces Brandon League as Dodgers closer
A night’s rest apparently worked better than 12 minutes after Monday’s game to clarify things for Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly.
By Tuesday afternoon, he could no longer fight the logic and the numbers and his own eyes, announcing that Brandon League had lost the closer’s role to Kenley Jansen.
Monday night, League blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning against the first-place Diamondbacks, giving up four runs in a difficult 5-4 loss that finally pushed Mattingly into action.
“I don’t know that it works better this way,” Mattingly said. “I wish I could say we have the sixth through the ninth covered, and the game was going to be over.”
League has a 6.00 ERA and has blown two of his last four save opportunities. He simply has not been the effective reliever of last September, leaving the back end of the bullpen unsettled.
“That’s your toughest thing to me,” Mattingly said. “You would really like a settling feeling when you get to that ninth inning. You’d like to feel like the game is over. Losses like last night really hurt you. Those are just tough losses. Games you feel like you have in hand and you give one up.”
Jansen has not been as dominant as he was in 2011 when he set a major league record by averaging 16.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but after a fairly disastrous weekend in mid-May, he has been the Dodgers’ most consistent reliever. Since giving up two homers and four earned runs over two appearances May 18 and 19 in Atlanta, he has not allowed an earned run in nine outings, with 13 strikeouts and no walks in 9 2/3 innings.
“He’s been more aggressive in the last couple of weeks. Maybe it’s since that [Evan] Gattis homer, it just seems like right out of the gate, that first pitch,” Mattingly said.
After League cashed in all six of his save opportunities last September, the Dodgers signed him to a three-year, $22.5-million contract. That raised some eyebrows, the Dodgers giving out that much money to a pitcher who had lost the closer’s role with the Mariners earlier last season.
Mattingly stuck with League until the middle of June, when it was no longer possible to deny that he was not the same pitcher.
“It’s hard for me to just abandon, you know?” Mattingly said. “We spent a lot of time researching, looking, ‘Is this the guy?’ Then you make that commitment. It’s kind of like Matt [Kemp] and Andre [Ethier]. You make a commitment to these guys, when do you say, ‘OK, I can’t keep hitting this guy in the four hole’? When there’s a seven- or eight-year commitment to a guy from the organization. And if I abandon that, what do I do to that guy? Do I have a chance of losing that guy? Knowing you’re going to need those guys to win.
“We’re going to need Brandon. We can say whatever we want and put him wherever we want. If Brandon League doesn’t pitch well, we’re not going to get to where we need to go. If it’s ninth or eighth or seventh, we’re going to have to get important outs in all different parts of the game.”
Mattingly said he and his coaches actually had been discussing a closer switch for a while.
“We’ve been talking about it for probably a week,” he said. “It’s one of those things that goes back and forth.”
He said Jansen, who saved 25 games in 32 opportunities for the Dodgers last season, took the news in stride.
“He’s pretty much from the islands [Curacao],” Mattingly said. “He was like, ‘All right.’ ”