Why is Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen pitching so much?

Kenley Jansen

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is on pace to appear in 110 games this season. (Getty Images)

In the eighth inning Wednesday with the Dodgers leading the Phillies 5-2, right-handers Kenley Jansen and Chris Perez were warming up in the bullpen.

The decision of who would pitch the ninth inning literally came down to the final moment. Had Adrian Gonzalez delivered an RBI in the final at-bat of the inning, Perez would have gotten the ninth. Instead, Gonzalez flied out to deep center field and Jansen got the ball. He pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his eighth save.

It was Jansen’s 15th appearance of the season, which leads the major leagues.
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Dodgers place Brian Wilson on the disabled list, Jose Dominguez up for series finale in San Diego.

Brian Wilson

Dodgers pitcher Brian Wilson faced five batters without recording an out Sunday in San Diego. On Wednesday, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow ulnar nerve inflammation. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff photographer)

Jose Dominguez was back in the Dodgers’ clubhouse Wednesday, making it safe to say a trend has emerged.

Five games into the season, the Dodgers haven’t had the same 25-man roster for more than two games in a row.

Brian Wilson was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 31, with right elbow ulnar nerve inflammation. Dominguez was recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque, where he did not make an appearance, and is available for tonight’s game at 7 p.m. Dominguez allowed three runs in one-third of an inning March 23 in Sydney, Australia.

Dominguez was optioned to Albuquerque during the seven-day downtime that followed. Clayton Kershaw was placed on the 15-day disabled list. With Kershaw out and Josh Beckett expected to make a rehab start in Rancho Cucamonga, the rotation for this weekend’s series against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium became official.

Hyun-Jin Ryu starts Friday against Ryan Vogelsong, Paul Maholm starts Saturday against Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke starts Sunday against Matt Cain.

Looking a couple days ahead: The Dodgers announced that tickets are still available for Friday’s game at Dodger Stadium with the purchase of a 30-game miniplan. Of course, the secondary ticket marketplace is rife with single-game ticket options (see here, here, here and here). The public address announcer will be a familiar voice: Ross Porter, who spent 28 years as a Dodgers broadcaster beginning in 1977.

Here are the lineups for both teams for the rubber match of the three-game series at Petco Park:
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Daily Distractions: Chad Billingsley’s best-case scenario is still in play.

Chad Billingsley

Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley still hasn’t thrown a cut fastball off a mound since having Tommy John surgery last year. (Associated Press photo)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Chad Billingsley sat at his locker at Camelback Ranch on Friday, demonstrating the difference between his slider and his cut fastball with an imaginary baseball.

One pitch involved a twisting motion that began with his fingers and shot up his forearm to his elbow. The other pitch did not — just a flicking motion with his wrist, nothing violent or severe.

Yet he’s been allowed to throw the former pitch, his slider. He still hasn’t thrown the latter, his cut fastball, and isn’t sure when he will. That’s the bad news.

The good news for Billingsley is that he can count on one hand the number of benchmarks still to cross off in his recovery from Tommy John surgery in April 2013. He still hasn’t thrown a cutter off a mound and he still hasn’t faced live hitting or pitched in a game.

Even that will change soon. The plan calls for Billingsley to throw to minor-league hitters at Camelback Ranch sometime next week, around the time the Dodgers play the Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia. When he throws “depends on whether I get four or five days’ rest” after his next bullpen session Monday.

Billingsley reported no setbacks one day after throwing a 36-pitch bullpen session Thursday. He hasn’t had any major setbacks yet. The best-case, late-April/early-May return to the majors that Billingsley projected  at the start of camp is still in play.

Some bullet points for a Pi Day:
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Dodgers’ intrasquad game is in the books; Dee Gordon, Hanley Ramirez make some noise.

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Hyun-Jin Ryu allowed home runs to Dee Gordon and Hanley Ramirez in the first inning of the Dodgers’ intrasquad game on Sunday. (Associated Press photo)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dee Gordon and Hanley Ramirez hit home runs against Hyun-Jin Ryu in the first inning of the Dodgers’ 4-inning intrasquad game Sunday at Camelback Ranch. Those accounted for all the runs in a 3-1 victory for Team Wills (drafted by Matt Kemp) over Team Koufax (drafted by Zack Greinke.)
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Daily Distractions: Reviewing the Dodgers’ unsurprising off-season.

Brian Wilson

Reliever Brian Wilson re-signing with the Dodgers might constitute the biggest surprise of the off-season. (Getty Images)

Accountability matters here, so I decided to take a look back at a little list I made in October.

In it, I ranked the Dodgers’ 12 in-house free agents in order of their likelihood of re-signing. Here’s how I ranked them:

12. Edinson Volquez
11. Mark Ellis
10. Chris Capuano
9. Jerry Hairston Jr.
8. Skip Schumaker
7. Brian Wilson
6. Michael Young
5. Carlos Marmol
4. Nick Punto
3. Ricky Nolasco
2. Juan Uribe
1. J.P. Howell

In light of Marmol’s contract with Marlins — he agreed to terms yesterday — that leaves only Capuano still unsigned among the 12 players.

Starting at the top of the list, it came as little surprise that the Dodgers re-signed Howell and Uribe. Nolasco was offered four years and $49 million from the Minnesota Twins. Since not many 31-year-old pitchers with a career history of below-average ERAs in the National League get four-year contracts from American League teams, Nolasco did the logical thing and signed the contract.

The Dodgers reached out to Punto about re-signing, but the Oakland A’s wanted him more. Billy Beane made a quick push and signed Punto for one year and a guaranteed $3.25 million. The Dodgers really didn’t have a chance to be interested in Marmol; they were more interested in Wilson and Chris Perez for set-up roles, and both pitchers accepted the Dodgers’ offers in December.

Young retired. So did Hairston. Schumaker and Ellis were swept away by better offers from a pair of NL Central teams, the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively.

Volquez got a one-year, $5 million contract from Pittsburgh, where he’ll compete for the fifth starter’s job on a good Pirates team. Not unexpected.

Come to think of it, as busy as it was, the off-season mostly stayed true to expectations. Clayton Kershaw re-signed. Don Mattingly got a new, longer contract. The Yankees threw a ton of money at Masahiro Tanaka.

In Uribe and Howell, the Dodgers re-signed the two players who were the best fits to re-sign. The Dodgers wanted a durable veteran to fill the number-four starter’s job on a short-term contract; Dan Haren is a durable veteran who was content with a short-term contract. Haren’s history shows less risk than that of Nolasco, who got the longer-term deal he wanted from the Twins.

Ned Colletti reached outside the organization for bullpen help from Jamey Wright and Chris Perez. Neither could be considered a real surprise: Perez replaces Ronald Belisario, who was non-tendered in his final arbitration year, and Wright becomes the long reliever the Dodgers never really had in 2013.

Even though the final bill hasn’t come in yet, the cost of building the Dodgers’ bullpen is already staggering. Together, Dodger relievers will earn roughly $26 million in actual salary in 2014. That doesn’t include deferred signing bonus payments, salaries for players with 0-3 years’ service time (such as Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez), or the actual closer — Kenley Jansen, who has yet to re-sign. That’s an eye-popping number.

 

The biggest individual surprise might be Wilson, who drew interest from the Yankees and Tigers — two teams that expect to contend in 2014 — to be their closer. Instead, he chose to be baseball’s highest-paid eighth-inning man in Los Angeles for $10 million and a player option for 2015.

For a team that reached the NLCS in 2013, no major changes were needed. We got none.

My spring training preview runs tomorrow.

Some bullet points for a Grenadian Independence Day:

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Daily Distractions: Apparently the Dodgers’ bullpen really needed an upgrade.

Chris Perez

The Dodgers have reportedly signed pitcher Chris Perez to a one-year contract. (Getty Images)

In all his postseason comments to the media, Ned Colletti never called out the Dodgers’ bullpen as an area of weakness in 2013. With the signing of former Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez, the GM’s actions have spoken louder than his words.

Perez, 28, reportedly signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers Monday, pending a physical. He started the 2013 season 17-for-19 in save opportunities with a 2.52 ERA through his first 35 2/3 innings. Then in an Aug. 5 game against the Detroit Tigers, Perez allowed four earned runs without recording an out. He would go on to allow 16 earned runs over his final 18 1/3 innings as an Indian.

The right-hander finished the season with a 4.33 ERA and five blown saves in 30 opportunities.

Before contract the contract becomes official, the Dodgers have already committed $18.5 million next season to two set-up men — Brian Wilson and Brandon League, both former closers themselves. Between Wilson, League and Perez, the Dodgers have 377 career saves sitting in the bullpen before giving the ball to ninth-inning man Kenley Jansen.

That gives the Dodgers the most experienced (and arguably the deepest) bullpen in the majors heading into 2014. FanGraphs’ Jason Collette threw together this chart comparing Jansen, Wilson, League and Perez.

Left-handers J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez and Onelki Garcia, and right-handers Jose Dominguez and Chris Withrow all figure to compete for innings in spring training. Colletti has also said he’s looking to add a long reliever to the mix.

Perez has a connection to Los Angeles. In September, he pleaded no contest in Ohio to a misdemeanor drug abuse charge and was found guilty of receiving a small package of marijuana mailed to his home on June 4. From Cleveland.com:

The six-ounce bag of marijuana was sent from Los Angeles and addressed to Brody Baum, the couple’s dog. Police seized the pot plus two pipes, a bong and several items of drug paraphernalia found in a basement kitchen. Chris Perez said the drugs and items belonged to him.

The package of marijuana was discovered after a postal supervisor smelled the weed and called a postal inspector, who opened the package, resealed it and delivered it to the home. An undercover officer posing as a delivery man approached (the pitcher’s wife) Melanie Perez, who confirmed the packages were for the dog. Baum is her maiden name.

Perez stirred the pot one year ago by criticizing his ownership regime in an interview with FoxSports.com:

“Different owners,” Perez said frankly, in reference to Detroit’s Mike Ilitch and Cleveland’s Lawrence J. Dolan. “It comes down to that. They (the Tigers) are spending money. He (Ilitch) wants to win. Even when the economy was down (in Detroit), he spent money. He’s got a team to show for it. You get what you pay for in baseball. Sometimes you don’t. But most of the time you do.”

Perez should be happy with his new bosses. The Dodgers have committed roughly $200 million to 19 players for next season, including the recently agreed-to contracts for third baseman Juan Uribe and Howell. Last year, the team reportedly spent $237 million on payroll.

Of that, less than 10 percent (somewhere in the $13 to $15 million range) went to full-time relievers. That percentage could increase significantly in 2014.

Statistically speaking, the Dodgers’ bullpen was excellent last year, at least after Jansen replaced League as the closer on June 11. Their 3.49 ERA ranked 13th among 30 teams. Their strikeout rate ranked ninth. They allowed 24 percent of inherited runners to score, third in the majors. And since the Dodgers’ starting rotation pitched relatively deep into games, the bullpen didn’t have to work too hard.

Perez brings a simple fastball/slider repertoire, with roughly 10 mph difference between the two pitches. It’s not the “power arm” profile that teams covet but League, Wilson, Withrow and Dominguez all fall into that category. Perez’s repertoire could be a nice complement.

Here’s a quick look at the bullpen pecking order, comparing the 2013 Opening Day Roster to the potential 2014 Opening Day group:

2013 2014
Brandon League (closer) Jansen (closer)
Kenley Jansen Brian Wilson
Ronald Belisario Chris Perez
Paco Rodriguez Rodriguez
J.P. Howell Howell
Matt Guerrier League
Aaron Harang Chris Withrow

Some bullet points for a Festivus:
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Reports: Brian Wilson, Dodgers agree on one-year contract.

Brian Wilson and the Dodgers have agreed to terms on a one-year contract, according to multiple reports Thursday.

Wilson will receive $10 million to set up closer Kenley Jansen in 2014, with a player option for 2015 that would be worth $9 and $10 million, depending on how many appearances he makes next season.

Daily Distractions: As bullpen market settles, Brian Wilson reportedly ‘close’ to settling with Dodgers.

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson posted a 0.66 earned-run average in 13 games as a Dodger. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff photographer)

In the midst of all that pesky logic that preached pessimism, there was always this shred of hope for the Dodgers: Brian Wilson never insisted on closing in 2014.

Not publicly, at least.

Here’s what I wrote on Oct. 31:

It’s reasonable to expect the Dodgers will enter the bidding for Wilson. Just don’t be surprised if a team desperate for a closer (Detroit? Cleveland? Arizona?) guarantees more money and more years to a pitcher who’s saved one game the past two seasons.

Well, Detroit appears to have entered and exited the picture. The Tigers are reportedly close to signing Joe Nathan to be their closer, in part because their Plan A didn’t work out:

And, according to multiple reports Tuesday morning, Wilson is close to rejoining the Dodgers.

After the Dodgers declined to tender an offer to Ronald Belisario before last night’s 9 p.m. deadline, the need for a set-up man to Kenley Jansen became clear. And if Brian Wilson was keen on staying close to his Southern California home, why not Brian Wilson? He had a 0.66 earned-run average in 18 games after joining the Dodgers midway through the 2013 season, with his velocity increasing as the season progressed. He also threw six shutout innings in the playoffs.

Those stats would be nearly impossible to maintain in 2014, but he doesn’t appear to be regressing after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2012.

The closer market is settling quickly this off-season. If Wilson and Nathan leave the board, only Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney would remain among free agents who closed full-time in 2013. Heath Bell and Jim Johnson have been traded in the last 24 hours.

I mentioned John Axford as a possible replacement for Belisario. Re-signing Wilson wouldn’t necessarily rule that out, and with this sense of humor you hope it doesn’t:

 

Some bullet points for an International Day of Persons with Disabilities:
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Dodgers non-tender pitcher Ronald Belisario, making him a free agent.

Ronald BelisarioThe Dodgers signed Ronald Belisario as a free agent on Jan. 16, 2009. On Monday, they declined to tender him a contract before the 9 p.m. deadline for arbitration-eligible players, making him a free agent again.

The intervening four-plus years were hardly quiet.
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Daily Distractions: Farewell, Shawn Tolleson.

Shawn Tolleson

Shawn Tolleson, who was claimed off waivers Tuesday by the Texas Rangers, faced two batters in 2013 and walked both. (Getty Images)

At some point the Dodgers will add to their major-league roster this off-season.

For now at least, the Dodgers continue to clear room. Reliever Shawn Tolleson was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, leaving the 40-man roster at 31.

Tolleson’s 2013 season was sabotaged by injury. He appeared in one game in April, but couldn’t sleep following the game because of an intense pain his back. Later that month, he had season-ending back surgery.

The Dodgers had to replace his innings somehow, and right-handers Chris Withrow, Jose Dominguez and, later, Carlos Marmol and Brian Wilson, all held down the fort. That was apparently enough for the Dodgers to feel comfortable about cutting ties with the 25-year-old, who not long ago was chosen as the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year.

In 40 games in 2012, Tolleson went 3-1 with a 4.30 ERA, striking out 39 batters in 37 ⅔ innings.

Some bullet points for a Transgender Day of Remembrance:
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