New position, but catching on
Switching from catcher to pitcher has been a breeze so far for Kenley Jansen
LOS ANGELES -- As the left-field bullpen gates swung open at the start of the ninth inning on Sunday, there was no Ozzy Osbourne music. Dodger Stadium wasn't shaking with anticipation. And Jonathan Broxton, though he had told manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt before the game he was ready to go, was nowhere to be found.
Instead, it was a rookie who had been pitching for less than two years and had been in the big leagues for less than three days who came through that gate and jogged toward the mound, entrusted by Torre and Honeycutt to protect a one-run lead, preserve Clayton Kershaw's latest masterpiece and nail down a victory the Dodgers absolutely, positively had to have.
Three batters later, Kenley Jansen had done exactly that, and the Dodgers had a 1-0 win over the New York Mets before 39,897, finishing off a weekend series in which they took three of four despite scoring a total of seven runs.
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Jansen had been recalled from Double-A Chattanooga on Friday and made his major league debut with a perfect seventh inning against the Mets on Saturday, striking out two of the three batters and hitting the upper 90s with his fastball several times.
"I was glad he pitched yesterday so we had an idea," Torre said.
Broxton had pitched two scoreless innings on Saturday, but he had been roughed up in his previous two outings and also had battled a gastrointestinal illness during the week. Hong-Chih Kuo, the Dodgers' other All-Star reliever, had also pitched an inning on Saturday, and Torre still won't use him on consecutive days.
So Torre, apparently without the slightest of reservations, went with Jansen.
Jansen started by falling behind 3-1 to Carlos Beltran, but Beltran popped up on the next pitch. Jansen then struck out Jason Bay on four pitches, setting him up with a couple of 81 mph breaking balls before blowing him away with a 96 mph fastball. Finally, he ran the count full to Ike Davis before getting him to swing and miss on a 95 mph fastball.
With that, Jansen not only had his first career save, but also had retired each of the first six batters he had faced in the majors. This from a guy who spent his entire minor league career as a lightly regarded catching prospect until Dodgers assistant general manager De Jon Watson finally convinced him one day last summer that the only chance he had of reaching the majors was to put his bats into mothballs, take his gifted right arm to the mound and start pitching.
So far, Jansen has looked like a guy who has been pitching all his life.
"He doesn't seem to have any nerve problems," Torre said. "Brox was available, but with what he has gone through the last few days, being in a weakened condition and pitching two innings yesterday, we wanted to stay away from him."
The best lesson the Dodgers (53-46) can take from this one is that they now have a third option to close at the back end of what has been a beleaguered bullpen lately.
The third-place Dodgers remained six games behind division-leading San Diego in the National League West. After taking Monday off, the Dodgers will play seven of their next 10 games against the Padres beginning on Tuesday night at Petco Park, with three games against second-place San Francisco squeezed into the middle of that stretch.
On an afternoon when Anson Williams -- the guy who used to play Potsie Weber on "Happy Days" -- blew through both the national anthem and "God Bless America" in less than a minute each, Kershaw worked almost as quickly in shutting out the Mets on seven hits over eight innings in one of his finest performances of the season.
Kershaw retired 14 of the first 15 batters, giving up only a two-out double to David Wright in the first inning after he thought he had struck Wright out, only to have plate umpire Dana DeMuth rule that Wright actually had foul-tipped the third-strike pitch into the dirt.
The Mets appeared to be getting the measure of Kershaw (10-5) in the middle innings.
Jeff Francoeur and Josh Thole delivered consecutive two-out singles in the fifth, but those proved harmless with the pitcher's spot coming up behind them. In the sixth, Jose Reyes led off with a sharp single up the middle, but Kershaw picked him off on a play that would loom large when Luis Castillo followed with a double into the right-field corner.
Andre Ethier then ran down Wright's looping liner up the right-field line in foul territory. And when Beltran followed with a smoking liner that looked like a sure base hit through the left side, third baseman Casey Blake went into a full dive to snare it, ending the inning.
Finally, in the sixth, Kershaw responded to a one-out double by Davis by intentionally walking Francoeur. Thole then grounded into a double play, and Kershaw sailed through the eighth. Torre said Kershaw, who threw 112 pitches, would have gone back out for the ninth if his spot in the order hadn't come up in the bottom of the eighth.
Kershaw struck out just three batters, an unusually low number for him. But he also didn't issue an unintentional walk for just the third time this season -- and the third time in his past six starts.
"My strikeouts were at a minimum," Kershaw said. "I think that was a combination of them putting balls in play early and getting my breaking ball over for strikes. The combination of those two things kept my pitch count down, which was great. I don't really care about strikeouts. Getting an out on one pitch is fine with me."
By the numbers
10 -- consecutive games without an RBI for Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, who finally broke that drought with one of his biggest hits of the season in the bottom of the eighth inning. With Blake on first and two outs, Martin yanked a pitch from Mets reliever Pedro Feliciano up the gap in left-center. After finally catching up with it, Beltran overran it, allowing plenty of time for Blake to come all the way home with the game's only run.
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The 1-0 victory was the Dodgers' fifth of the season by that score, the most such wins in the majors (Source: ESPN Stats & Information).
The Dodgers will begin their biggest series of the season thus far, a three-game set with the division-leading Padres, by sending right-hander Chad Billingsley (8-5, 4.22) to the mound for Tuesday night's opener, the same mound where he made his major league debut four years ago. He will be opposed by right-hander Jon Garland (9-6, 3.61), who finished last season with the Dodgers after he was acquired from Arizona on Aug. 31.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.