9/1/2014 5:06 P.M. ET
Janssen accepts both criticism, high expectations
Closer, who's struggled since All-Star break, is starting to turn things around
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
TORONTO -- The way Casey Janssen sees it, the criticism that has been directed his way in recent weeks isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Janssen has been one of the most reliable relievers in baseball over the past several years, but things haven't been so easy lately. As he's struggled, there have been scattered boos, missed save opportunities and lots of people searching for answers.
It's an awkward situation for any reliever, but Janssen does his best to put a unique spin on it. There's a reason why the spotlight is on him.
"With all this raise and concern, I feel like it's indirectly a backhanded compliment to me, because the expectations are so high, and rightfully so," Janssen said. "I put that on myself every day. When things aren't going your way, everybody is wondering what the heck is going on, because I've shown well for so long that people don't see this out of me very often."
Janssen's issues can be traced back to the All-Star break when he decided to spend a couple of days in the Dominican Republic with his fiancee. Once there, Janssen came down with a severe case of food poisoning and lost 10 pounds.
That forced Janssen to miss a couple of games, but even when he returned later that week, the California native was hardly himself. Healthy or not, the Blue Jays needed him during a tough stretch, and Janssen went on to pitch in five of the club's next eight games. His velocity was down, his command was off and there wasn't exactly a large margin for error, considering his role.
Janssen would rather not focus on the food poisoning, but it's reasonable to consider that it played at least some part in his performance. Prior to the All-Star break, Janssen had a 1.23 ERA while striking out 14 and walking one in 22 innings. After the break, he allowed nine runs and struck out three in his first 10 appearances.
Coincidentally, Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta was in a similar situation. He came down with an illness during the break and was placed on the disabled list upon his return.
"I never considered it," Janssen said of going on the DL. "Every time I'm able to pitch, I'm going to pitch. It doesn't matter. No one feels great all of the time, especially bullpen guys. We're trained to pitch with not our best stuff, and I think I'm the type of pitcher that can get away with not having my best fastball, or have my best something, and just figure out a way to get three outs. I've been doing it a long time, and I'm just in this little stretch right now where it's not going my way."
Janssen's struggles reached a potential breaking point last week when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons decided to go in another direction. First it was left-hander Brett Cecil recording a four-out save over Boston and then it was rookie Aaron Sanchez pitching two scoreless innings on Saturday.
A lot of proven closers would have made waves after that by speaking out, but Janssen chose a different path. In his opinion, the way he had been pitching didn't give him the right to complain.
"I don't want to make it a story," Janssen said. "I just love to pitch. I'll take every opportunity to pitch that I can. I'm going to treat every [appearance] like a tryout. It's Gibby's choice to pick me or to pick whoever he picks. I just want him to remember my name by pitching well."
Janssen does have some positives to build from. He's looked a lot better during his last two outings with a slight uptick in velocity and noticeable improvement on his control. He was back in the closer's role on Sunday, and with a month remaining in the season, there's time to prove that the recent stretch was an aberration and not the norm.
The numbers would seem to back that up. From 2011-13, Janssen was one of five relievers to post an OPS allowed under .600. At the All-Star break, Janssen had the lowest ERA (1.45) in save situations of any pitcher in baseball over the past five seasons with a minimum 50 innings pitched. Craig Kimbrel was second at 1.50.
Still, that does little to ease the sting from the way things have gone for both Janssen and his team lately.
"Hotter than any team in baseball at one point, tasting first place as late as we were there," Janssen said almost in disbelief. "Even in the Wild Card situation, as late as we were in the Wild Card situation. It was exciting. It was something I dreamt about as a little kid, to be in the playoffs.
"With every loss -- some of it is my own doing -- but seeing it slip away, it kills me. It kills all the hard work, all the reps, everything you do in the offseason to get to this point of being the best pitcher you can possibly be and then to not see the results, not doing your own part, it gets you frustrated, and it's tough to swallow knowing that with every game we play and every loss, the mountain keeps getting bigger and bigger."