March 23, 2012
Janssen's swing-and-miss still hit and missJays reliever developing a splitter, but it's not ready yet
By MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency
DUNEDIN, FLA. - After signing a two-year contract worth $5.9 million on Feb. 13, one that has a club option for 2014, Casey Janssen arrived at spring training in a celebratory mood.
But instead of breaking open a bottle of bubbly, Janssen broke out a new pitch — a split-finger fastball.
The 30-year-old right-hander is one of just two returnees who spent all of last year in the Jays bullpen — Carlos Villanueva being the other — so the easy-going Janssen will have plenty of new card players to deal with this season. (For the past seasons, the members of the bullpen play cards to pass the time before each game).
By all accounts, Janssen had a pretty successful season in 2011 as he scooped six ‘vulture’ wins against zero losses. More importantly, though, he was a dependable arm when called upon, allowing just 47 hits in 552/3 innings (55 appearances), walked 14 against 53 strikeouts, and held opponents to a .228 batting average.
Although he is a right-hander, Janssen held left-handed hitters to a .216 average and allowed just six extra-base hits against them, all doubles.
Thus, the two-year deal locks him up for this season and next, where he would have been eligible for free agency.
The only thing lacking in Janssen’s repertoire was a swing-and-miss strikeout pitch. He throws his fastball in the low 90s while mixing in a slider/cutter and curve. He also has a changeup but that is his fourth best pitch by far. Basically, he has been getting guys out going hard-hard and wanted to add something slower and deceptive.
Believing he had to improve and get more swings and misses for key outs, Janssen opted for the split, a deceptive pitch that looks like a fastball but comes in slower and has the bottom drop out of it as it approaches the plate.
For the muscle guys with the big swings in the middle of the order, it is lethal if thrown properly.
“There are a few guys in the league that I feel it can work for,” Janssen said of his latest offering. “Guys who like off-speed pitches coming back into their path as a lefty, so to have something fading away from them was my train of thought for the pitch.
“I figured this spring training would give me an opportunity to play with something and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, no harm done and I’d just go with the repertoire that I had last year.”
So, how’s it working out?
“So far, so good,” Janssen replied. “It’s getting better. It’s not 100% where I want it to be yet. But for only being five, six outings old, I can see it becoming usable.”
Throwing a new pitch down in spring training is one thing and throwing it in a meaningful situation in the season is quite another.
Back when Roy Halladay was with the Jays, there were consecutive springs where he said he was working on a changeup, but once the season rolled around, it never saw the light of day. It took at least three springs and plenty of bullpen sessions before Halladay got around to adding it as a weapon during the regular season.
“I feel it can become that,” Janssen said. “Right now, if it’s bases loaded and the count is 3-and-2, am I going to throw it? Probably not, but you build the confidence by throwing it in counts (and against hitters with limited power) where it’s not going to hurt you and finding the situation where it’s not going to hurt you (such as against a leadoff hitter when he has a three-run lead).
“Then you have to have to gain the confidence and see the success and you can start using it in higher leverage situations.”
The best splits are those that come in looking like a strike but isn’t one when it arrives.
“It’s probably a ball pitch,” Janssen said about the one he throws. “It’s just a pitch to make them honour the outer half of the plate as a left-hander. So, we’ll see.”
Helping him with the mechanics and grip of the pitch are Jason Frasor and new bullpen coach Pete Walker. His two-year deal also helps as this spring he knows he doesn’t have to flash brilliance each time he goes out.
“I feel it could be a huge weapon for me,” Janssen said. “You’d be foolish not to keep trying to expand your abilities and capabilities to get somebody out. I’m excited about it. I’m looking forward to throwing it.”