The previews of the 2021 Dodgers were universally glowing.
Best rotation in baseball. What a lineup. Deepest and most talented roster in baseball.
But – isn’t there always a ‘but?’ – Kenley Jansen’s status as closer could become an issue.
It only took a week.
Handed a one-run lead in the ninth inning on Wednesday afternoon, Jansen’s command deserted him and he blew the save, allowing the Oakland A’s to tie the score. Jimmy Nelson couldn’t keep the free runner on second base from scoring in the 10th inning and the A’s beat the Dodgers, 4-3, for their first win of the season.
“I think today it was just about his command,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s just uncharacteristic of him to not have command like that. There were some misfires in there, some spiked fastballs that typically doesn’t happen with him. We’ll dig into it.”
Jansen hit the strike zone with just nine of 22 pitches in the ninth inning, missing his spot by wide margins – and that was actually very characteristic of the inconsistency last September and October that cost him the opportunity to close out the Dodgers’ biggest wins in 32 years.
“Yeah, this spring he was really good,” Roberts said, preferring a shorter-term memory when reminded of Jansen’s 2020 arc. “I thought he did a good job of that this spring where the last two nights he just didn’t seem that he commanded like we’d been seeing recently.”
But Jansen might not have found himself struggling to walk a one-run tightrope if not for a staggering 2-for-21 performance with runners in scoring position by the Dodgers’ lineup. They stranded 14 runners on base, leaving the bases loaded in three separate innings.
“We’re a very good offensive ballclub,” Roberts said very accurately. “But today is one of those days where we didn’t cash in on opportunities. You’re going to have those days.
“I thought there were a couple of line-outs in there that could have broken the game open. There were some other good at-bats that just didn’t show the results. Today just wasn’t our best, I guess, with runners in scoring position.”
The first missed opportunity came in the first inning when the Dodgers made Oakland starter Jesús Luzardo throw 35 pitches, drawing three walks. It was a familiar start. Through their first seven games, the Dodgers have made opposing starters throw 169 pitches in the first inning (an average of 24 per game), collecting nine hits and 10 walks in those start-ups.
But they scored just one run this time and Luzardo settled in and retired 11 of 12 after a Chris Taylor single in the second inning. The A’s offense manufactured the tying run in the fourth against Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer when he hit Ramon Laureano with a pitch to start the inning. Laureano stole second and third base (the latter without a throw) and scored on a wild pitch.
The Dodgers did their own MacGyver impersonation to take the lead in the sixth inning.
Max Muncy drew a one-out walk, moved up on a single by Austin Barnes and a ground out. With two outs and Zach McKinstry ahead in the count 3-and-1, he pushed a bunt down the third base line. Muncy scored as A’s third baseman Matt Chapman fielded the ball and hustled back to third base to tag Barnes out after he overslid the base.
“That was on his own and a very heads-up play,” Roberts said.
Back in the lineup after missing Tuesday’s game with a bruised elbow, Taylor led off the seventh by getting hit by a pitch – the 10th time in 11 plate appearances Taylor reached base.
Corey Seager singled him into scoring position and Justin Turner cashed it in with a double to left – one of 124 plate appearances with a runner in scoring position for the Dodgers this season, far and away the most in the majors.
The A’s closed the gap immediately when Chapman led off the seventh with a home run off Bauer then tied the score in the ninth against Jansen. A leadoff single by Chapman started it but a walk to Seth Brown moved him into scoring position. A sacrifice bunt and a shallow sacrifice fly to center field produced the tying run.
In the 10th, Nelson replaced Jansen and gave up the winning run. Taylor ran down one fly ball over his head but couldn’t get to Mitch Moreland’s game-winning single.
Nelson has now given up runs in each of his first three appearances in an unfamiliar relief role. The relocated starter has given up seven baserunners (four walks and three hits) while retiring just six batters.
“I think he’s still trying to get his feet under him,” Roberts said of Nelson who pitched well enough in spring to win a spot on the pitching staff. “He’s just kind of got to get it dialed in.”
Bauer put together his second straight strong performance, holding the A’s to two runs on three hits and one walk in 6-2/3 innings, recording 10 strikeouts for the second straight start.