LOS ANGELES -- Before the Los Angeles Dodgers pulled out a 9-8 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night, they watched an 8-6, ninth-inning lead turn into an 8-8 tie. This was the result of Kenley Jansen, usually the team's eighth-inning setup man who was pressed into closing duty because Javy Guerra had pitched three days in a row, coming in and issuing a leadoff walk and then a two-out, two-run, game-tying homer to Chase Headley.
That result itself was somewhat less notable than the fact the fireballing Jansen's velocity was noticeably down, even as he was striking out three batters that inning to raise his average for the season to 16.5 strikeouts per nine innings -- slightly better than the all-time, major league record of 16.2 he set last year.
Jansen has been battling a mild case of flu in recent days, which could have accounted for the velocity drop.
"I've been battling the flu, but that's not an excuse at all," Jansen said. "You still have to make good pitches and keep us in the game and try to help the team win. That is what it's all about."
Both manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt noticed the slight dropoff, but neither seemed alarmed by it. Honeycutt said it might have been due to the cold weather or illness. Mattingly said it might have been the difference in the eighth inning and the ninth, which almost anyone in baseball agrees is fairly huge except for the pitchers who actually pitch in those innings.
"It doesn't feel any different," Jansen said. "You have to treat the eighth inning just like it's the ninth inning, just come in and get the job done."
But catcher A.J. Ellis said Jansen did seem a bit out of sorts at the beginning of the inning, when he walked the first batter, Chris Denorfia.
"He was a little more tentative than I have seen him," Ellis said. "But after that first batter, he was definitely locked back in. He came right back to strike out the next two batters on six straight pitches. Chase Headley is a good hitter, a three-hole hitter in the National League, and that pitch ended up over the middle of the plate.''
Jansen was trying to throw it in on Headley, but said it ran back over the middle. At any rate, the hope is that the velocity drop was a one-time thing -- although he gave up a double to Yonder Alonso after Headley's home run, Jansen still looked pretty unhittable in striking out the three batters he did. If it continues, though, it could become a source of alarm.
With veteran left-hander Ted Lilly scheduled to come off the 15-day disabled list and make his first start of the season on Saturday night against the Padres, the most likely move appears to be reliever Todd Coffey going onto the 15-day DL.
Mattingly revealed after the game that Coffey has been receiving some type of treatment on his right knee for a condition the specifics of which aren't known -- Coffey declined to comment after the game -- and given the fact Coffey failed to retire any of the three batters he faced and now has been charged with four earned runs in a total of one inning in his three appearances this season, all of that adds up to a very convenient roster move if the Dodgers decide to go that way.
If not, the most likely move would be to option reliever Josh Lindblom, if only because he is the only guy in the bullpen who has options. But that would be a tough move to make -- and possibly a harsh message to send -- given that Lindblom has made four appearances this season and allowed no runs on one hit over six innings, including pitching out of an eighth-inning spot he inherited with a runner on second and nobody out. Lindblom retired the next three batters with relative ease, stranding Jeremy Hermida on second.
Dodgers bullpen coach Ken Howell, who suffers from diabetes that has caused him to have to have toes amputated in the past, walked out of the clubhouse after the game wearing two different types of shoes. It was announced shortly thereafter that he would be leaving the team until the next homestand, which begins on April 23, to receive medical treatment.
Howell was replaced in the bullpen on Friday night by catching instructor Steve Yeager. Jim Slaton, the pitching coordinator at the Dodgers' spring-training complex in Glendale, Ariz., arrived during the game and will be taking over bullpen-coaching duties for the duration of Howell's absense beginning on Saturday night.