Mattingly confident in L.A.'s late-inning pitchers
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP)
Javy Guerra worked as a closer in the minor leagues and showed last season he is perfectly comfortable with the pressure-packed ninth inning and recording the final three outs. Kenley Jansen is more than willing to pitch whenever his name is called, too.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is taking a shot that his two young relievers can carry the load for Los Angeles in the back end of the bullpen - even if they have some growing pains along the way.
''Javy has been here one year,'' Mattingly said. ''It's a competition, you still have to perform. There have been a lot of guys in their first year were really good and struggled the next year. Kenley was a perfect example, as he wasn't himself (to start 2011) that he was the year before. It took him a half a season with little problems here and there, and he was in the minors for a little bit, but next thing you know he emerged back to what we had seen the year before.''
Mattingly appreciates having both reliable right-handers returning after each made strong impressions last year. Jonathan Broxton is gone to the Kansas City Royals, though Los Angeles didn't see much of him in 2011 because of an elbow injury that required surgery.
With much of the focus centered on Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and slugger and 2011 MVP runner-up Matt Kemp, Mattingly has said it will take more consistency and improved performances from his entire roster throughout the year for the Dodgers to contend in the NL West.
The 26-year-old Guerra made his major league debut on May 11 and went 2-2 with a 2.31 ERA and 21 saves as a rookie. The team's fourth-round draft pick in 2004 is ready to take on a greater role.
''I don't worry about that stuff. Overall I think we have tons of arms in here, and my goal is to just throw strikes,'' Guerra said.
With Guerra and Jansen proving themselves last year, the Dodgers felt comfortable moving forward without the two-time All-Star Broxton. He was 1-2 with a 5.68 ERA and seven saves last season after closing out 58 games during 2009-10.
He didn't pitch again after May 3, the day before he went on the disabled list with bone spurs in his right elbow that required surgery in September.
Jansen picked up five saves in 2011 and went 2-1 with a 2.85 ERA and 96 strikeouts to 26 walks in 51 appearances and 53 2-3 innings.
''We go into camp thinking Javy is the guy,'' Mattingly said. ''Javy, to me, didn't do anything last year to say he shouldn't be that guy. More than anything, Kenley was saying `Hey I can do that too' by the way he pitched. It's a good problem for us to have.''
If his team stays healthy and more players have big years, Mattingly believes the Dodgers will challenge the defending division champion Arizona Diamondbacks and 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants in the pitching-heavy West. Los Angeles went 82-79 in Mattingly's first season in 2011 for a third-place division finish.
Jansen plans to help change the Dodgers' fortunes.
''The eighth inning is just like the ninth inning,'' he said. ''Bottom line, it doesn't matter. When the game is close, you just have to focus to close it out. We'll both try to help the organization win the World Series.''
The 24-year-old Jansen - a native of the Caribbean island of Curacao - is penciled in as a set-up man. He signed with the Dodgers in 2004 and has pitched regularly in the big leagues the past two seasons. When he reported to spring training earlier this week, the pitcher said he has diligently worked to watch his diet to avoid further heart trouble. Jansen went on the 15-day disabled list in late July after being admitted to a hospital for an irregular heartbeat. He was placed on blood thinners and sidelined for a month.
It was a wakeup call to say the least, especially for a professional athlete in his 20s. He has even cut back on eating his favorite dish from home, his mother's curried stew roti wraps.
''I've got to limit the fat,'' he said, noting he'll do whatever it takes to prolong his career.
The Dodgers are counting on the hard-throwing pitcher to stay healthy.
''With Kenley, you feel like you can kind of do anything,'' Mattingly said.