Advertisement
Sports

The Sports Report: The Dodgers do it again

Los Angeles Dodgers v Colorado Rockies
Kiké Hernandez
(Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Howdy, my name is Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Dodgers

The Dodgers had a walk-off win on Thursday night, their 11th of the season, but it seemed Kenley Jansen was on a lot of minds still. Let Jorge Castillo explain:

For the first time in his major-league career, a decade-long period of stable excellence, Kenley Jansen was booed at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. The fans, after years and years of cascading the closer with cheers, flipped their tone when they watched Jansen surrender a tying home run to Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Rowdy Tellez. It was the latest installment in an unsettling season for the former All-Star. The dissent had been building up. It boiled over Wednesday.

Advertisement

“I get it. Boo me,” Jansen said before the Dodgers’ 3-2 walk-off win over the Blue Jays on Thursday. “Yeah, [shoot], I’d boo myself. I didn’t want the results. I was effing myself out there.”

The Dodgers’ rally on Thursday started with Max Muncy working a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Cody Bellinger smacked a double. Corey Seager followed with another double to score both runners before Kiké Hernandez, on his bobblehead night, cracked a line drive to center field to score Seager.

The win developed without Jansen emerging from the Dodgers’ bullpen. The right-hander’s next performance will come sometime this weekend against the Yankees, the next challenge in a season that has become about adjusting to a thorny reality in preparation for October.

After successfully relying on his cutter so much to dominate for so long, Jansen, recognizing the pitch is not as lethal anymore, has begun acquiescing to the Dodgers’ brass, mixing his pitch selection and sequencing to become more unpredictable. The evolution started with throwing sliders more frequently at the beginning of the campaign. Over the last month, the repertoire has included more four-seam fastballs.

Advertisement

The evolution is a sign of Jansen coming to a realization and it has provided challenges. It requires better preparation, more thinking, and improved execution. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts noted it’s similar to the modifications Clayton Kershaw, another 31-year-old pitcher coming to terms with new limitations, has effectively implemented this season. Roberts, however, indicated Jansen has been more reluctant to expand.

“No, I don’t think so,” Roberts said when asked if Kershaw’s success has left Jansen more open to accept changes. “It should but I don’t think that’s landed with him.”

Jansen said he temporarily forgot about his new blueprint Wednesday. He started the outing by striking out Randal Grichuk on three cutters. It was a brief flashback to vintage Jansen. He explained the moment duped him.

“Sometimes i get myself in trouble because when I [blow by] hitters like that, three pitches, [it’s] like, ‘Ah [shoot], I got it today. Let’s go!” Jansen said.

“It’s a transition,” Roberts said. “The more conversations we have, I think he’s understanding that you can still be just as effective as you have been in the past.”

“They booed me last night, that’s fine, boo me,” Jansen said. “At the end of the day, I’m here trying to help the team win a championship and I’m going to make them cheer.”

Angels

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, United States, Earth have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout. They have Shohei Ohtani. They have the best-fielding shortstop in the game in Andrelton Simmons. They have that guy running around in Albert Pujols’ uniform. Yet they remain mired in mediocrity. One reason: lack of a quality catcher.

Advertisement

For several seasons now, the Angels seem to believe that hitting at catcher is something to be avoided. Only defense matters. Let’s look at the offensive production at catcher recently:

2019: .225/.304/.350/83 OPS+ (meaning Angels catchers were 17% worse than the average catcher on offense)
2018: .220/.271/.357/85
2017: .216/.263/.348/68
2016: .230/.271/.377/83
2015: .220/.297/.341/88
2014: .239/342/.364/107

Wow, we have to go back to 2014 to find an Angels team that got better-than-average offensive production from their catchers. The main catchers that season were Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger.

This might be acceptable if they had a Gold Glove behind the plate, and they had that in 2017 with Martin Maldonado, but they traded him midway through the 2018 season because apparently the Angels don’t want their catchers to be too good at anything.

Production from Angels catchers this season could hardly be worse. Max Stassi is batting .144 with four home runs and a .388 on-base-plus-slugging percentage for the season. His backup, Anthony Bemboom, is batting .167 with one home run. Injured backup Kevan Smith has two homers and a .246 average.

“A little bit harder thing to recognize in the public domain is the impact that catcher’s can have on every single pitch that a pitcher throws,” GM Billy Eppler said. “That’s something that might not be as as recognizable, but is no less important than anything he contributes in the batter’s box.

Advertisement

“No other position has direct responsibility for the performance of another player like the catching position does.”

That’s certainly true, but I’m pretty sure the only way your catcher can overcome the fact he is hitting .144 is if he turns every pitcher into Sandy Koufax.

The Angels don’t have much in the way of catching prospects. There is Jack Kruger, a 2016 draft pick from Westlake Village Oaks Christian High whose defense has improved in his second season at double-A Mobile. And there is Franklin Torres, a second baseman who was converted to catcher in spring training.

What’s Bengie Molina up to nowadays? Or Bob Boone? Lance Parrish? Tom Satriano?

By the way, more bad news for the Angels on Thursday: Griffin Canning’s season is over.

Rams

The injury to Cooper Kupp last season may have done the Rams a bit of a favor. His injury allowed for the emergence of Josh Reynolds. Now, with Reynolds, Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, the Rams have a “four-headed monster” at the position.

Reynolds, a 2017 fourth-round draft pick from Texas A&M, started eight games last season, and finished with 29 receptions for 402 yards. He caught five touchdown passes, including two in the Rams’ victory over the Green Bay Packers, and two in the regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers.

Reynolds’ 19-yard reception in the final two minutes of the NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints enabled the Rams to keep alive a drive that produced a tying field goal, and an eventual overtime victory that sent them to the Super Bowl.

Coach Sean McVay said the Rams look at Reynolds as “a starting player” despite the fact that he will come off the bench. Reynolds’ importance was evident in McVay’s decision to keep him sidelined — as well as all starters on offense — during preseason games.

“You definitely feel the love, and the expectation and belief in me from our coaches and our players,” Reynolds said. “But ultimately, it keeps you wanting to stay there, so you work just as hard.”

Sparks

The Sparks clinched a playoff spot on Thursday with a 98-65 victory over the Indiana Fever.

All-Star forward-center Nneka Ogwumike led a balanced attack for the Sparks, scoring a game-high 17 points and collecting seven rebounds. Center Chiney Ogwumike had 15 points on seven-for-eight shooting from the field.

After a lackluster first quarter, the Sparks found their rhythm, going on a 43-16 run from the start of the second quarter until midway through the third. The game was never close after that.

UCLA football

Offensive tackle Sean Rhyan, a true freshman, could start in the Bruins’ season opener against Cincinnati on Aug. 29 since left tackle Alec Anderson recently underwent surgery on his right leg. Anderson, a redshirt freshman, continued to be limited in practice Thursday during the team’s final training camp session. Rhyan has assumed Anderson’s spot with the starting linemen during the limited practice window available to the media.

Like other freshmen who arrived on campus this summer, Rhyan has not been made available to speak with reporters, but his teammates anticipate he’ll be ready for the challenge.

“He’s learning everything really well, picking everything up really fast,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said. “I’m really excited for him.”

Coach Chip Kelly said on the day that Rhyan signed his letter of intent in December that he would have to earn a starting spot rather than be designated as the replacement for Andre James, who is now in the NFL.

Eight months later, that appears to be the case.

“Sean’s done a really nice job,” Kelly said. “He’s big, he’s physical, he moves really well for a kid that size. … He’s been impressive.”

High school football

Times high school sports columnist Eric Sondheimer is counting down to the season by picking the top players at each position. Today, he ends the series with kicker. Take it away, Eric.

Kicker Josh Bryan, Sierra Canyon

There’s a 40-foot-high fence in right field on Sierra Canyon’s baseball field that’s designed to prevent balls from coming onto the football field. Who knew that it would be the baseball players needing protection from flying footballs soaring off the foot of kicker Josh Bryan?

“I’ve always been able to kick far,” Bryan said. “I’ve had that gift.”

He set up his plastic holder on the 22-yard line and sent it so high and far beyond the football goal posts that it easily cleared the net, causing baseball players practicing down the right-field line to stare up before figuring out the unidentified flying object was one of Bryan’s booming kicks.

A 6-foot-1, 187-pound junior who also plays linebacker, Bryan is ranked as the No. 1 kicker from the class of 2021, according to kicking expert Chris Sailer.

“He’s awesome,” Sailer said. “He’s probably one of the top 10 or 15 that I’ve ever trained from a young age as far as talent is concerned. He’s got incredible athleticism. His leg strength is outstanding and he’s got the mental game of a college kicker. He expects perfection.”

Except Bryan was hardly perfect as a sophomore. He made eight of 14 field-goal attempts and missed on a 35-yard attempt during a 19-17 loss to Brentwood Liberty in the Division 1-A state championship bowl game.

The missed field-goal try wasn’t at the end of the game, but Bryan still took the disappointment hard.

“I was crying in the locker room,” he said.

Every kicker must be prepared for success and failure. It’s part of the psyche requirement to play the position.

“Misses happen,” he said. “I understand in order to be successful you have to fail as well. I can’t keep focusing on the past. I have to look to the next kick. I had to clear my mind. I can’t bring myself down and the team down.”

Top kickers/punters

Player, School | Ht. | Wt. | Yr. | Comment

Josh Bryan, Sierra Canyon | 6-`1 | 187 | Jr. | Strong leg with excellent accuracy

RJ Lopez, Mission Viejo | 6-0 | 175 | Sr. | Has booming leg

Tommy Meek, Palisades | 6-1 | 175 | Sr. | Averaged 41 yards per punt

Miles Mena, St. Paul | 5-11 | 153 | Sr. | Made eight field-goal tries, with long of 48

Chase Meyer, Chaminade | 5-10 | 165 | So. | Kickoffs are routinely soaring into end zone

Jake Moos, Mater Dei | 5-9 | 160 | Sr. | Standout punter

Joseph Rouly, Anaheim Canyon | 6-2 | 180 | Sr. | Top athlete with strong leg

Brenden Segovia, Oaks Christian | 6-2 | 175 | Jr. | Had good summer at camps

Jack Stonehouse, Chaminade | 6-0 | 170 | Jr. | Top punter from family of punters

Cole Thompson, San Clemente | 6-3 | 160 | Sr. | Navy commit made six of eight field-goal attempts

Odds and ends

An inside look at the subculture of athletes who have devoted their lives to ‘American Ninja Warrior’.... Virtual reality batting practice head-set is Dodgers’ real-life preparation tool.... Hyun-Jin Ryu is among the most unpredictable pitchers in baseball.... As USC quarterback battle unfolded, Clay Helton received fatherly wisdom.... NFL preseason: Cam Newton leaves Panthers’ preseason loss with foot injury; Raiders edge Packers in Winnipeg.... Dates for horse racing next year draw criticism.... Chargers rookie Drue Tranquill is making presence felt at linebacker and special teams.... Soccer on TV: This weekend Serie A opens play while EPL has a showdown.... Angels lease talks: Team says Anaheim name isn’t coming back; mayor says fine.... U.S Open first: Serena Williams vs. Maria Sharapova.

Today’s local major sports schedule

All times Pacific

New York Yankees at Dodgers, 7 p.m., Spectrum Sportsnet, AM 570

Angels at Houston, 5 p.m., FSW, 830 AM

Born on this date

1911: Sprinter Betty Robinson (d. 1999)

1929: Golfer Peter Thomson (d. 2018)

1934: NFL player Sonny Jurgensen

1942: Tennis player Nancy Richey

1948: Baseball player Ron Blomberg

1962: NHL player Glenn Healy

1966: NBA player Rik Smits

1973: Former Dodger Casey Blake

1977: Figure skater Nicole Bobek

1978: Former Laker Kobe Bryant

1982: Swimmer Natalie Coughlin

1988: Former Laker Jeremy Lin

Died on this date

2002: Baseball player Hoyt Wilhelm, 80

2003: Baseball player Bobby Bonds, 57

2012: NFL player Steve Van Buren, 91

And finally

Kobe Bryant scores 81 points in a game. Watch it here.

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email me by clicking here. If you want to subscribe, click here.


Newsletter
Get our daily Sports Report newsletter
Advertisement