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The Globe and Mail

Janssen keeping hitters off balance despite drop in velocity

Toronto Blue Jays closer pitcher Casey Janssen (R) and catcher J.P. Arencibia celebrate in the rain their victory against the Detroit Tigers during the ninth inning of their American League baseball game in Detroit, Michigan April 10, 2013.


What his performance to date doesn't betray is how Casey Janssen must cope wearily with the after-effects of shoulder surgery.

Despite losing two miles per hour off his fastball velocity from last season, the Blue Jays' closer has converted all six save opportunities, most recently with a 1-2-3 inning against the Orioles on Wednesday. In eight appearances prior to the game against the Yankees on Thursday, he'd allowed only three hits without a walk while facing a total of 27 batters.

"Whatever you have that day, is what you've got," Janssen said on Thursday. "To look at the mph [stats] is already deflating enough so I've stopped doing that. You read hitters reactions, and try to get them with off-speed pitches."

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Janssen assumed the closer's job last season, successfully saving 22 of 25 opportunities, and underwent arthroscopic surgery in the offseason. This year, his average fastball is travelling 89.7 mph versus 91.7 last season. Ironically he's using the fastball as a greater percentage of his pitches – 59.3 per cent this season, against 51.1 per cent in 2012.

"Everything is based on arm speed so I'll be throwing the slider ... curve ... cutter harder," he said. "There will come a time, when it's 92-93 again, and the cutter is 91."

Until then, he's keeping hitters off balance with changes of speed and great control. Opponents are hitting .111 against him, with right-handed batters 0-for-11.

He throws the cut fastball, or cutter, second-most frequently and the velocity is down to 89 mph, versus 89.9, according to fangraphs. His curve is coming into batters at 73.5 mph, versus 75.8. One of every four pitches has been a cutter, 25.3 per cent precisely, while he's throwing the curveball 13.3 per cent of the time.

He described the shoulder stiffness as more of a nuisance than being painful.

"There are days when it just doesn't feel good and what comes with that is, you can't always play catch like you want to or get loose as fast as you want to, but nothing that's going to set me back as far as re-injuring it," he said. "I wish I could get a couple more kicks on my velocity but I'm not guarding it, not at all."

During spring training, it appeared that Sergio Santos, who had midseason shoulder surgery in 2012, would be better prepared to start the season than Janssen. Santos has been unavailable to ease the load at the back of the bullpen. Obtained from the Chicago White Sox after the 2011 season to be the closer, the right-hander went on the disabled list with a triceps strain following five appearances.

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Janssen said he "hates" asking to sit out a game here and there, to allow his arm to recover.

"We haven't panicked at all, but if we were 13-5 maybe I'd be more inclined to get a day but these wins are important," he said. "If we have a four-day stretch with a couple of lopsided wins, I can rest that way opposed to asking for a couple of days."

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