Friday, July 23, 2010
Prospect Jansen has come long way
By Tony Jackson
LOS ANGELES -- Several springs ago, when the Dodgers still trained in Vero Beach, Fla., and were about to make one of those dreaded, three-hour bus trips to Fort Lauderdale to play the Baltimore Orioles -- the sort of trip that any player with even a little bit of big league service time would do just about anything to get out of -- the usual list of guys you never heard of who were borrowed from minor league camp to fill out the travel roster included a lightly regarded catcher named Kenley Jansen.
In the ninth inning of that day's game, Jansen was sent to pinch hit and delivered a hard-hit single. After the subsequent batter hit a ground ball and Jansen was forced at second, the big kid from Curacao jogged back to the dugout, whereupon he was rewarded for his base hit with a gleeful high-five from then-Dodgers manager Grady Little.
At the time, it seemed like that might be the greatest moment Jansen would ever experience in a Dodgers uniform.
"He was a light-hitting catcher with a great arm," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said Friday, just after recalling Jansen from Double-A Chattanooga to bolster the bullpen.
Jansen's destiny changed dramatically early last season, when he had a conversation with DeJon Watson, the Dodgers' assistant general manager for player development. It was a conversation Jansen didn't particularly relish, but it was one he needed to have. He had been in the organization long enough that the Dodgers had to add him to the 40-man roster in a few months or risk exposing him to the Rule 5 draft, and there was no particular reason at that time to protect him.
But Watson had an idea.
"He had always struggled offensively," Watson said. "He had raw power, but he had a long, slow swing. I just didn't think he was going to hit. I think the first time we had brought it up to him was back in '08, when he was still at [low Single-A Great Lakes]. I told him, 'If you don't get that bat going, we're going to have your [rear] on the mound.'
"It was a conversation most position players don't want to hear. ... He resisted. He will tell you he wasn't too happy that I was talking about converting him to pitching. But I told him I thought this could change his whole career. He asked me if I was sure, and I said, 'Yeah, this will give you a chance to become a big league player.'
"Once he decided, he was in all the way. He really committed himself."
Jansen, 22, initially was demoted from Triple-A Albuquerque to high Single-A Inland Empire to give him time to get used to pitching. When he got there, he worked closely with 66ers pitching coach Charlie Hough, who was a key factor in getting Jansen to where he found himself Friday.
"I was scared, because I thought I couldn't do it," Jansen said. "But DeJon Watson kept talking to me and telling me he believed in me, that I could do it. ... Charlie Hough was the first guy I worked with. He was amazing. All the stuff he told me just clicked. He knew what he was doing with me. All the stuff we did just worked."
Jansen posted a 4.63 ERA in 12 appearances for the 66ers late last season, but he threw a fastball that routinely was clocked in the mid-90s, and he showed promise with a slider and changeup. He showed enough promise in five appearances in the Arizona Fall League that the decision to add him to the 40-man roster was basically a no-brainer.
After starting spring training in big league camp, he began the season back at Inland Empire, then was promoted to Chattanooga. By the time he was called up, he had a combined 1.60 ERA in 33 appearances. He was doing some closing at Chattanooga, where he had eight saves.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre said he primarily plans to use Jansen in late-inning situations.
"We will use him in the latter part of the game," Torre said. "Hopefully, he will blossom. You have to like his makeup."
With closer Jonathan Broxton still possibly unavailable because of a stomach illness and setup man Hong-Chih Kuo off-limits because he had either pitched or warmed up three days in a row, Torre was asked if he would consider using Jansen as his closer if one were needed Friday night against the New York Mets.
"I am liable to," Torre said.
Jansen's promotion -- reliever Justin Miller was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot -- still leaves the Dodgers with 13 pitchers and a depleted bench, even after Hiroki Kuroda gave them eight innings Thursday night and Chad Billingsley pitched a complete game the night before. That situation probably won't last more than a few days, as Torre said the team likely will go back to a more conventional 12-man staff by the start of next week's trip to San Diego and San Francisco.
"We need more consistency out of our pitching, including our bullpen," Colletti said. "When you're struggling to find that, sometimes you need to have more choices, not fewer."
Colletti wouldn't say how much additional cash owner Frank McCourt is willing to free up to add a player before the July 31 trading deadline, but he did say McCourt is open to doing so.
"I'm not going to get into figures," he said. "If it makes sense as a baseball deal, we'll do it. Am I going to pay an exorbitant salary and give up a fistful of prospects? I wouldn't do that under any condition."
Colletti said there still is no indication how long reliever Ronald Belisario will be out and that the team has to proceed under the assumption he won't be back at all.
"To some extent, we do," Colletti said. "That is part of the reason Kenley is here."
Belisario is on the restricted list and, according to one published report, undergoing treatment for substance abuse. Players can be on the restricted list for a maximum of 30 days, and Belisario already has been on it for 17. There is no indication what the club will do if those 30 days expire before Belisario is ready to rejoin the team.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.