Wilner on Jays: Janssen starring as closer

Casey Janssen is starting to show he can be a dominant closer for the Blue Jays.
April 18, 2013, 11:35 PM

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays salvaged a split of their series with the Chicago White Sox thanks to a tremendous — albeit brief -pitching performance from their ace.

Here are three things that stood out to me about the series-splitting win, other than the Dickey domination:

Blue Jays Talk

OH NO, NOT AGAIN:

It’s almost as though back pain is contagious. With Jose Bautista already on the shelf all week with lower back spasms, Dickey had his upper back tighten up on him in the sixth inning. He looked awkward in his follow-through on a strikeout pitch to Dewayne Wise, prompting a visit from trainer George Poulis and manager John Gibbons.

Dickey declared himself fit to stay in the game and needed only one more pitch to get out of the inning on a fly ball by Jeff Keppinger, but that was it for him.

The knuckleballer was forced from the contest after six innings of dominant two-hit ball, having thrown only 64 pitches, and he was rubbing the back of his neck and shoulder on the right side as he walked from the Blue Jays’ clubhouse to the dugout.

The official word from the Blue Jays was that Dickey was removed from the game as a precautionary measure because of neck and back tightness, a pain he’d been suffering since his last outing in Kansas City. Some aggressive treatment allowed Dickey to answer the bell for this start, and he’ll undergo the same treatment again over the next four days.

Arguably, the Blue Jays’ three best players are now on the shelf as the New York Yankees come to town, though Dickey isn’t scheduled to pitch again until next Tuesday in Baltimore.

Crazily enough, White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo’s back went out on him in the top of the eighth as he took a hard swing and missed on an Esmil Rogers delivery. I’m telling you, this is like viral back pain or something — it’s really not supposed to be contagious.

WHEELS!:

All three Blue Jays’ runs came as pretty much a direct result of their speed — or the threat thereof — on the basepaths.

Rajai Davis led off the bottom of the first with a single, then stole second as Melky Cabrera struck out. On the very next pitch, Davis pilfered third base. An out later, Davis scored on a single by Edwin Encarnacion — his eighth hit of the four-game series.

By the way, that Encarnacion hit improved the Blue Jays to a dreadful 4-for-51 with runners in scoring position at home to that point in the season.

In the fifth inning, the Jays gave Dickey a little breathing room with a two-run rally, again caused by speed. It began with Emilio Bonifacio getting hit in the right thigh by a Chris Sale delivery. Even with the sore leg, Bonifacio is always a threat to run, so Sale kept a close eye on him at first base and wound up throwing away a pick-off attempt down the right-field line, allowing Bonifacio to scamper all the way to third.

That forced the White Sox to pull the infield in, and with one out, Munenori Kawasaki hit a grounder to first that Adam Dunn tried to throw home before securing it in his glove. The error, as Bonifacio’s speed forced Dunn to rush, gave the Blue Jays their second run and Davis followed by blasting the ninth pitch of his at-bat into the gap in left-centre to easily drive in the speedy Kawasaki.

CASEY IS THE SHUTDOWN MAN:

It took the Blue Jays a while to figure out they had a dominant closer in Casey Janssen, but in the almost calendar year since they finally gave him the job, he’s been nothing short of outstanding.

Janssen came on to protect a two-run lead against Chicago’s 2-3-4 hitters and retired Jeff Keppinger, Alex Rios and Paul Konerko in order on just eight pitches for his fifth save in as many tries.

In six innings of work this season, Janssen has allowed one run on just three hits, with no walks against eight strikeouts. That’s a WHIP of 0.50 and a 1.50 ERA, and he’s faced just 21 hitters.

The Blue Jays haven’t had a big-time kick-butt-and-take-names closer since the first year of B.J. Ryan, and Janssen has translated his past set-up man success rather seamlessly into being a dominant, dominant closer.

It’s been a serious pleasure to watch.

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