09/21/11 10:59 PM ET
Mattingly speaks glowingly of Rivera
By AJ Cassavell / MLB.com
So when he was asked whether he wants this year's key midseason acquisition back next year, Mattingly was diplomatic, while at the same time speaking nothing but praise for Rivera.
Though he never said explicitly his vote is to retain Rivera, he said "he should be a consideration," before pointing out Rivera's immense value to the 2011 Dodgers.
"It's no surprise this guys hitting, for me," Mattingly said. "We knew that. He knows what he's doing. He's not some guy up there just guessing. He's up there, he studies, he knows what's going on."
When the Dodgers acquired Rivera, many scoffed at the notion that he'd be able to contribute as much as he has. But he's been one of the most valuable Dodgers during the season's final two months -- not coincidentally also the Dodgers' two best months.
Entering Wednesday, Rivera was hitting .297 with 41 RBIs since the Dodgers acquired him from Toronto during the All-Star break. At the time, the Dodgers were 10 games below .500. They sat at 77-76 heading into Wednesday's contest against San Francisco.
To Mattingly, Rivera's value doesn't end at the plate. He noted Rivera's ability to play both corner outfield spots as well as first base. Though he has removed Rivera for defensive purposes late in games, he said he feels there would be no need if he didn't have Tony Gwynn -- who has dazzled in the outfield all season -- sitting on his bench.
Jansen finding a groove with cutter
LOS ANGELES -- Mike Borzello knows just how rare a cut-fastball like Kenley Jansen's is.
The Dodgers' bullpen catcher has seen a pitch like it only once before -- coming from the right arm of surefire Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, the Yankees' closer regarded by most as the best finisher in the history of the game.
Borzello was the Yankees' bullpen catcher while Rivera was in the early stages of developing his devastating cutter. He says the similarities are there with Jansen from the way the pitch moves to the way they each discovered it.
The scary thought to Borzello is that Jansen's cutter has the potential to be even more dominant than it's been in the last month or so. Jansen has struck out 23 of the last 36 batters he's faced and is averaging 15.87 strikeouts per nine innings -- tops in the Majors among those with at least 45 innings pitched.
"It can only get better, and it has gotten better throughout the year," Borzello said Wednesday. "Now he's putting the ball where he wants and just attacking hitters like last night. It's unbelievable."
Jansen said Tuesday's hold was the most fun he's had all season. He came in with one out and coolly stranded two runners with a pair of routine strikeouts to preserve Clayton Kershaw's 20th win.
The goal for Jansen now is to better understand the cutter so he can locate it. He said he still hasn't completely gotten a feel for just how much the ball will cut or where it will end up when he throws it, though he's getting there.
"It's a natural fastball and it cuts a lot, so I know I have a cutter now," Jansen said. "The key is learning right now how to start it."
Borzello remembered Rivera learning the same way. Suddenly his ball started cutting and the Panamanian righty made a career out of the pitch. Jansen didn't know he had a cutter either until Borzello informed him during a bullpen session that his fastball had late movement on it.
Borzello said Jansen will eventually get to the same level of control as Rivera. But for now, the variance in where his cutter will finish and how much it will move is one of the biggest reasons he has kept hitters off balance.
"I just throw, try to be ahead all the time," said Jansen. "That's how how my thinking is. Stay ahead, and when I have it 0-2, two strikes, that's the time I really want to put them away with a strikeout."
Multiple times this season, stunned opposing hitters have turned to catcher A.J. Ellis after striking out and asked him just what pitch Jansen was throwing.
"It's hard to square up because it never ends up where you think it's gonna be," Ellis said. "You don't see guys throw that hard with that late movement."
Sands getting confident with hot bat
LOS ANGELES -- If there wasn't enough proof already that Dodgers outfielder Jerry Sands was feeling more comfortable at the plate, his crucial home run off two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum in Tuesday's win over the Giants sealed the deal.
The rookie right-handed hitter is on a tear of late, carrying an eight-game hitting streak into Wednesday's contest, during which he is hitting .533 with a couple of homers.
He attributes the success entirely to confidence, noting that when he initially returned to the club as a September callup, he felt he was trying to prove too much.
"I don't think a whole lot has changed swing-wise," Sands said. "I just think it's getting comfortable at the plate, seeing the ball and not missing. That's the main thing. I'm just putting some good swings."
Sands dismissed the notion that a home run off Lincecum mattered more to his psyche than if he had done so off anybody else. But, like the rest of the Dodgers clubhouse after starter Clayton Kershaw earned his 20th win, he was noticeably giddy after the game.
Manager Don Mattingly said he's noticed Sands' increased comfort at the plate and said what fans have seen in the last week or so is an indicator of what they should expect from one of the club's most highly touted prospects.
"He's really kind of getting to the point where a lot that I had seen in the past, what kind of player he was, the way he looks at the plate," Mattingly said. "I think we're starting to see a better picture of Jerry than we've seen the first time around."
AJ Cassavell is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.