Friday May 15th, 2015

In today's edition of Hit and Run, we look at the impending return of Kenley Jansen, some encouraging signs from Carlos Gonzalez, and more.

Kenley’s comeback

Kenley Jansen can't return to the Dodgers quickly enough. Sidelined since undergoing surgery to remove a growth from a bone in his left foot in mid-February, the closer could be activated on Friday, just as his team's makeshift bullpen is smarting from consecutive late-inning meltdowns that cost them ballgames.

On Wednesday night against the Marlins, the Dodgers carried a 4–2 lead into the seventh inning thanks to homers from Kiké Hernandez and Joc Pederson, but it all fell apart quickly. Starter Carlos Frias allowed a leadoff single to Adeiny Hechavarria, then lefty Adam Liberatore gave up back-to-back singles to Ichiro Suzuki and Dee Gordon, the former via a bunt. Chris Hatcher came on in relief, but the conga line kept moving with two more singles, as Martin Prado drove in in Hechavarria and then Giancarlo Stanton plated Suzuki and Gordon, giving Miami a 5–4 lead. Following an overturned double play, an out at the plate and a walk, the Marlins still had the bases loaded, but Pedro Baez came on to strike out J.T. Realmuto. Baez returned to whiff the first two batters of the eighth, but he departed with an apparent pectoral strain after yielding a double to Gordon.

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On Thursday night against the Rockies, the Dodgers took a 4–1 lead into the sixth inning, but an 85-minute rain delay—that at a ballpark that hasn't had a rainout since 2000—forced starter Brett Anderson from the game after he had allowed two of the first three batters in the inning to reach base. When play resumed, Juan Nicasio took over, and the lead was cut to 4–2 when Jimmy Rollins bobbled Wilin Rosario's potential double-play grounder. The Dodgers carried that lead into the ninth, but fill-in closer Yimi Garcia alternated a pair of singles with a pair of strikeouts before serving up a three-run homer to Carlos Gonzalez, a blow which the Dodgers couldn’t counter.

Even with the two late-inning losses, the Dodgers are 22–12, up four games in the National League West and within two games of the league's best record. The rotation has averaged just 5.3 innings per start in turns not taken by Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke, with Hyun-jin Ryu yet to appear and Brandon McCarthy done for the year due to Tommy John surgery. But a bullpen filled with unfamiliar names—in marked contrast to last year's Famous Ex-Closer Retirement Home—has done an admirable job of picking up the slack.

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The unit's 2.24 ERA and 3.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio both rank second in the league, its 10.4 strikeouts per nine and 0.3 homers per nine are both first, and its 21% rate of allowing inherited runners to score is fourth. Hatcher is carrying a 6.00 ERA (but a 2.13 FIP) through all of 12 innings, and Garcia is up to 3.38 after allowing five runs in his past two appearances, but every other reliever with at least five innings under his belt has an ERA of 2.16 or lower. Rookies Garcia and Baez have combined to strike out 13.8 per nine and rank second and third on the team in reliever innings (16 and 15 1/3, respectively), while fellow rookie Liberatore had retired 28 out of the 29 batters he had faced before Thursday night. Busy long man Nicasio has a 1.07 ERA through 17 innings.

That said, the team's six blown saves are tied for second in the league and the Dodgers are just 15–5 (.750) when leading after six innings. Major league teams as a whole have an .874 winning percentage in such games this year, about 2 1/2 wins better than the Dodgers over the same number of games.

With Baez hitting the disabled list and Joel Peralta's progress toward a return stalled by a pinched nerve in his neck, Jansen's comeback is well-timed. The 27-year-old righty is one of the game's top-shelf closers, notching 97 saves with a 2.30 ERA, 2.09 FIP and 13.5 strikeouts per nine over the past three seasons, including 44 saves and a 2.76 ERA, 1.91 FIP and 13.9 strikeouts per nine last year. The Dodgers plan to ease him back into the closer role, but given the back-to-back blowups, it will be interesting to see how much restraint manager Don Mattingly can show before throwing him into the fire.

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

CarGo gets going, Tulo staying?

The Rockies' win over the Dodgers halted their 11-game losing streak, and Gonzalez's homer was a welcome sign of life for a player who came into the game batting just .188/.245/.297 with two homers. He didn't get cheated on the homer off Garcia, which was estimated at 436 feet by ESPN Home Run Tracker:

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Ostensibly healthy, Gonzalez is attempting to rebound from a dreadful season in which he hit .238/.292/.431 with 11 homers, three steals and an 89 OPS+ in 281 plate appearances. He also missed time due to a benign growth in his left index finger and patellar tendinitis in his left knee, both of which required surgeries—those on top of a January 2014 appendectomy. Whether the Rockies intend to return to respectability or rebuilding mode, a return to form from the 29-year-old rightfielder would be most welcome, particularly since he's making $16 million this year with another $37 million to come over the next two seasons.

Speaking of which, teammate Troy Tulowitzki had his much-anticipated meeting with agent Paul Cohen on Thursday, after which he said he will not ask for a trade. Via MLB.com's Thomas Harding:

"Whatever happens on the Rockies' end happens, but for me to sit here and try to force my way out of here, that's not the case," Tulowitzki said while meeting with multiple media members for more than 10 minutes. "I don't think it's fair to my teammates and the relationships I've built here to take that route."

…[W]hile he believes Cohen, his agent from when he was coming out of Long Beach State, was looking out for him, Tulowitzki said Thursday's breakfast allowed them to "get on the same page." Tulowitzki emphatically said he didn't ask the agent to plant a story to push a deal.

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Uh-huh. Whether he asks for a trade now or later, the reality is that Tulowitzki's future probably lies beyond Colorado, given that the team appears en route to its fifth straight losing season, though his long history of injuries and the $113.7 million he's owed through 2020 make dealing him difficult. That said, he’s off to an atypically slow start (.289/.297/.456 for a 92 OPS+, not to mention a 28/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio) that isn’t helping his value or the team. His words don't rule out the possibility of changing his mind later this summer if the Rockies slide further below .500 (they're 12–19) and if interest from other teams escalates.

Gordon on the go

Speaking of Dee Gordon, he's making the most of the trade that sent him from the Dodgers to the Marlins back in December. On the strength of a batting average on balls in play that's just bananas (.479!), he's currently hitting .426/.452/.529 in 147 PA, with both the batting average and his 58 hits leading the league. Even having sat out three of the Marlins' first 35 games, he's on pace for 268 hits, which would topple the single-season record of 262, set in 2004 by current teammate Ichiro.

Even given his blazing speed, Gordon's BABIP is likely to wind up closer to last year's .346 than to .500. He and six other batting title qualifiers—Matt Holliday (.420), Paul Goldschmidt (.418), Kris Bryant (.418), Jacoby Ellsbury (.405), Brandon Belt (.403) and Jorge Soler (.402)—are currently above .400 in BABIP, but since 1925, only half a dozen players has pulled off a .400 mark over a full season. Here they are, with two near-misses:

player year team pa avg obp slg babip
Rod Carew 1977 Twins 694 .388 .449 .571 .408
Jose Hernandez 2002 Brewers 582 .288 .356 .478 .404
Manny Ramirez 2000 Indians 532 .351 .457 .697 .403
Roberto Clemente 1967 Pirates 632 .357 .400 .554 .403
Luke Appling 1936 White Sox 618 .388 .474 .508 .400
Bill Terry 1930 Giants 708 .401 .452 .619 .400
Ichiro Suzuki 2004 Mariners 762 .372 .414 .455 .399
Andres Galarraga 1993 Rockies 506 .370 .403 .602 .399

Carew, Clemente, Appling and Terry—Hall of Famers, all—won batting titles in those years, as did Galarraga; Terry's season is the last .400 average in the NL, and his 254 hits from that year remain the NL record. Hernandez's season was notable for his 188 strikeouts, one short of what was then the single-season record; manager Jerry Royster sat him down for all but three of his team's final 11 games, including some with playoff implications, to avoid breaking it. Ichiro's season was the aforementioned one with the hit record.

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