LOS ANGELES – For Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, the tipping point came Sept. 19. Pedro Baez took the ball trying to protect a 2-1 lead in Philadelphia.
Baez began the seventh inning by throwing Phillies third baseman J.P. Crawford a fastball down the middle of the plate. Strike one. On 1-and-2, Crawford got another fastball down the middle, and belted it to the gap between right field and center field for a triple.
The next batter, Jorge Alfaro, saw six fastballs. The final pitch struck him on the right hand. With two outs, Baez walked Odubel Herrera on four pitches (all fastballs) to load the bases.
That left him no margin for error with Rhys Hoskins, who broke a record earlier in the week by hitting 18 home runs in his first 34 major league games.
Hoskins saw 10 pitches, all fastballs. He hit a double to left field on the last pitch, clearing the bases. The Dodgers trailed 4-2, and Baez’s night was over.
Jansen could not believe what he’d just seen.
“It wasn’t the best game sequence,” he said. “You see the game plan that Petey had – what, 26 fastballs up in the zone, didn’t make an adjustment?”
Baez’s final count, for the record: 36 pitches, 34 fastballs, 22 strikes, and only one ball – a changeup – that missed below the knees.
“That’s when I feel like it was time for me to help him get out of it,” Jansen said.
Among Dodger fans, patience with Baez had already crossed the tipping point. On Sept. 8, Baez jogged in from the home bullpen in the sixth inning of a game against the Colorado Rockies. The Dodgers had lost eight consecutive games; Baez was the losing pitcher in two of them. Before he threw a single pitch – before he even reached the mound – Baez was booed resoundingly.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was incredulous.
“That’s something that really (ticked) me off,” he said.
Baez was bothered by the boos too, Jansen said, so the closer pulled him aside to talk.
“You’re going to pitch on the road the whole year,” he told Baez. “It’s not fair but sometimes fans don’t understand.”
Baez declined to comment for this story. Those who did pointed to a single source of Baez’s September spiral: a mechanical issue that began in the lower body and trickled up, affecting his release. As a result, Baez’s fastball was missing high almost every time.
Gradually, the physical problem became a mental one. No matter what Roberts said publicly in support of Baez, the results spoke louder. It’s hard for any…