Back-end duo making Dodgers' relief dynamic

Back-end duo making Dodgers' relief dynamic

Back-end duo making Dodgers' relief dynamic
LOS ANGELES -- At the back end of the Dodgers' bullpen, one of the club's many strengths in its blazing 9-1 start, you find a team within a team.

Closer Javy Guerra and setup man Kenley Jansen are a dominant duo. The only blips have been a pair of homers surrendered by Jansen to Cameron Maybin and Chase Headley of the Padres, Headley's blast costing Jansen a save that became one of his two wins.

Guerra has been close to perfect in his six outings, making good on all five of his save attempts by limiting opponents to only two hits and two walks in six scoreless innings.

Guerra, 26, and Jansen, 24, are relatively new to their jobs and resist being singled out. They will quickly point out that the bullpen is a unit, each member committed to his role. But these two guys have a history that is fairly unique, creating a tight bond.

"I used to pitch to Kenley in the Minors," Guerra said, recalling Jansen's early days as one of the biggest catchers in professional baseball. "Me and Kenley have always had a special relationship. I love the guy.

"He was good back there, defensively. And he had an arm. I think he had the ability to catch up here [in the Majors]."

Jansen, born and raised in Curacao of the former Netherlands Antilles, showcased his powerful, accurate arm catching for Team Netherlands in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. But his offensive performance showed why he was about to be transformed into a pitcher.

"I'm still figuring things out. It's great having Javy around -- especially when I feel down a little. I talk to him, and he always has a way of making me feel good."
-- Kenley Jansen,
on Javy Guerra

A .229 hitter in five Minor League seasons with 15 homers in 953 at-bats, he was 1-for-13 in the Classic, his lone hit coming off Roy Oswalt of Team USA.

"He was a switch-hitter," Guerra said, when asked about Jansen's bat. "That wasn't the best part of his game."

At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Jansen was introduced to the mound in 2009 at Inland Empire of the California League. He could throw the ball through a wall, but the problem was locating the wall.

In 11 2/3 innings of high-Class A work, he walked 11 hitters while striking out 19. He was raw, to be sure, but the Dodgers saw enough potential in him to continue with the experiment.

In 2010, at 22, he exploded. Throwing strikes with natural movement on his four-seam fastball, Jansen moved from Inland Empire to Double-A Chattanooga to Dodger Stadium, making his Major League debut on July 24 against the Mets. He struck out Angel Pagan and David Wright and retired Carlos Beltran on an infield out.

Clearly, the Curacao kid was not intimidated by the big stage -- or two of the game's most dangerous hitters in Wright and Beltran.

To his surprise, Jansen beat his old buddy, Guerra, to Los Angeles. There was nothing meteoric about Javy's rise. The man from Denton, Texas, a fourth-round pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, labored for seven seasons in the Minors, the first four as a starter.

"He's been through a lot," Jansen said. "Javy had Tommy John surgery. He's had his ups and downs. A lot of players in his situation might not have made it. But he's so strong mentally. He doesn't let anything get to him."

Guerra's long-awaited Major League debut arrived on May 15, 2011. He held the D-backs scoreless, yielding one hit with a strikeout.

By midseason, Guerra had emerged as manager Don Mattingly's closer.

Using his deep repertoire -- fastball, curve, slider, changeup -- Guerra nailed down his first 10 saves and finished 21-for-23, his 91.3 success rate the sixth best in the Majors. It was also the sixth-best all-time for a rookie.

Jansen, meanwhile, was tossing up some crazy numbers setting up for Guerra. Going almost exclusively with his cutter, bearing in on left-handed hitters' hands and breaking away with late movement from righties, Jansen was leaving hitters dazed.

He rang up 96 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings, his 16.1 K's per nine innings the highest rate ever recorded. Opposing hitters batted .157 against him, third best in the Majors.

"We've got different styles," Jansen said. "I think it's good to have different looks in the bullpen. Javy throws hard [averaging 94 mph with his fastball, compared to 93.3 by Jansen]. I try to throw the four-seamer, but the ball naturally cuts at the last moment.

"I'm still figuring things out. It's great having Javy around -- especially when I feel down a little. I talk to him, and he always has a way of making me feel good."

Members of baseball's new math community evaluated the numbers of Guerra and Jansen over the winter and wondered why their roles aren't reversed.

Acknowledging that Guerra has done a solid job, they pointed to Jansen's strikeout percentage, bordering on the astonishing, and saw a closer.

The early 2012 returns suggest Mattingly knows what he's doing. Guerra has been lights out. Jansen's cutter, when it's on, is virtually unhittable. But when it drifts into a hitter's wheelhouse, it can travel a long way. Maybin and Headley are prime examples.

Certainly you'll hear no complaints from Jansen about his role. He knows he's an unfinished product, that Guerra is far more advanced.

"We both have respect for each other and are good friends," Jansen said. "I'm just getting started. He knows what he's doing. We're trying to be the best we can be. You've got to have a strong bullpen, and we have a lot of guys who can get the job done. Our bullpen is so deep.

"We've just got to keep working and get the job done. When it gets to the eighth or ninth inning, up by one, we've got to try to shut it down."

Jansen and Guerra. A dynamic team within a team.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.