Dodgers’ Don Mattingly uses Kenley Jansen as needed not as wanted
ATLANTA — There is a new-age school of thought that believes teams should use their best relievers the way the Dodgers are using Kenley Jansen — in potentially game-altering situations, often in innings other than the ninth.
But Manager Don Mattingly said his decision to use Jansen in this manner is based on his team’s needs rather than a desire to revolutionize the modern bullpen.
Even with Brandon League struggling, Mattingly has hesitated designating Jansen as the closer because doing so would severely limit his options leading up to the ninth inning. Of the relievers other than Jansen, only left-hander Paco Rodriguez has pitched with any kind of consistency.
The plan didn’t work Saturday, as Mattingly called on Jansen with one on and one out in the seventh inning and the Dodgers leading, 1-0. Jansen served up a two-run home run to Atlanta’s Evan Gattis and a solo shot to Andrelton Simmons, turning the one-run edge into a 3-1 deficit.
Even before the defeat, Mattingly said he was uncomfortable with this arrangement.
“I don’t like having a committee of guys in that ninth inning,” Mattingly said. “It ends up being always unsettling. Any time a guy doesn’t pitch good, it’s, ‘Why don’t you pitch the other guy?’ Every day’s a tryout. For me, it’s not an environment I want my pitchers in. I want them to know we’re confident in them and we trust them.”
But Jansen doesn’t mind.
“I like to pitch in pressure situations,” he said.
Jansen said he has adjusted to his fluid role by making sure he’s stretched and performed his shoulder exercises before the sixth inning.
Lilly to the bullpen?
When Ted Lilly is activated from the 15-day disabled list some time during the Dodgers’ current six-game trip, he could return as a reliever.
“We don’t really know,” Mattingly said. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
The manager was referring to rookie Matt Magill’s scheduled start. If Magill falters, Lilly will probably be back in the rotation. If Magill pitches well, Lilly could be turned into a long reliever.
Either way, Lilly figures to spend time in the bullpen.
The Dodgers have a day off Thursday, meaning they won’t need their fifth starter again until May 28, when they face the Angels at Dodger Stadium. Josh Beckett isn’t eligible to be activated from the disabled list until May 29.
Asked whether he would prefer to return as a starter or reliever, Lilly said, “I want to pitch well, that’s what my preference is. That’s what we need.”
Lilly is recovering from a strained rib cage, which he said felt fine in his bullpen session Friday. The 37-year-old left-hander pitched in a Class-A game Wednesday and gave up four runs in five innings.
Lilly has made two starts this season. He held the New York Mets to a run over five innings on April 24, then gave up five runs in three innings to the Colorado Rockies five days later.
Mattingly had previously expressed a reluctance to using Lilly in a relief role. That no longer appears to be the case.
“I might be willing to pitch him out of there for a little bit at some point,” Mattingly said.
Mark Ellis is scheduled to rejoin the Dodgers on Sunday, but isn’t expected to be activated from the disabled list.
Ellis spent the last two days on a minor league rehabilitation assignment with double-A Chattanooga. He will travel with the Dodgers to Milwaukee and could continue his assignment with their Class-A affiliate in Michigan.