- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2015

Nearly five hours before Monday night’s game was scheduled to begin, Casey Janssen stood in the grass behind home plate, surrounded by familiar faces.

Nationals Park is home for Janssen now after he signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Washington Nationals this winter, but some of his closest friends remain in Toronto. It’s where he spent the first eight seasons of his major-league career, moving from the starting rotation to the bullpen and, eventually, to the closer’s role. And it’s where he grew up as a person, walking into the clubhouse as a 24-year-old rookie and leaving it for the last time as a well-respected veteran and leader.

All of that is what makes this week’s series a special one for the 33-year-old right-hander. With the Blue Jays in Washington for the first time since baseball returned to the District, he has a rare, early chance to reconnect with old teammates, see old friends and, if needed, try to shut them down late in a game. It’s a meeting of Janssen’s past and present, but as far as he’s concerned, it’s also just another series.

“I think it’s going to be fun to see the old faces and get to compete against them, that’s for sure,” Janssen said. “I wouldn’t say [it’s] emotional as much as just kind of the turning of a page.”

After two months of anticipation, Janssen will have to wait one more day for that opportunity. Monday’s game was postponed because of thunderstorms, meaning the two teams will play a split doubleheader on Tuesday, with games at 1:05 p.m. and 7:05 p.m. Jordan Zimmermann, Monday’s scheduled starter, will start Game 1, with Max Scherzer to follow in Game 2.

Janssen was signed by the Nationals two weeks after trading Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics, presumably to fill the same eighth-inning role. Rotator cuff tendinitis in his right shoulder, however, has largely prevented him from pitching.

He began the season on the 15-day disabled list and made his season debut May 23. In four appearances so far this season, he has been near-perfect in three outings and terrible in one, allowing four earned runs Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds.

“It’s still early in his process,” manager Matt Williams said Monday. “He had some really good outings and then had one that wasn’t so good. He’s itching to get the ball again. He’s got experience, the resume speaks for itself, so he’s been in those pressure situations, he understands it. He’s a guy that fits in the back of that bullpen.”

Still, Janssen’s injury makes him a relative newcomer in Washington’s clubhouse. Though he was with the team throughout spring training, the bullpen in right field at Nationals Park still feels new. Janssen’s teammates are still getting to know him. They don’t know the version of Janssen that the Blue Jays came to know, a steady veteran who is relatively soft-spoken, unless an argument is on the line.

“If you get into a debate, he’s going to take the other side, every time,” Toronto reliever Steve Delabar said. “In the bullpen we have all kinds of time to talk, so he’s always willing to take the other side and fight that side than to go with the flow and say, ‘Oh yeah,’ and agree with everyone. He’ll put up a battle.”

Toronto manager John Gibbons remembers when Janssen first arrived in the majors as a 24-year-old starter with a good arm and incredible command. He also remembers returning to the team after a five-year managerial hiatus to see the finished product, a reliable closer who amassed 81 saves over three seasons.

“Shoot, he was good here. He had some great years,” Gibbons said. “He could always pitch. He was a great competitor. He was a master at his craft, too. He could dissect the plate — he’s got pinpoint control.”

Janssen has mixed feelings about his time in Toronto. Though he loved his time with the Blue Jays, and the city, his tenure there ended on a sour note. He dealt with a severe bout of food poisoning midway through the 2014 season, something he said affected his performance for the remainder of the season but is not entirely to blame for it.

The ailment made it difficult for Janssen to leave, with his goal of winning a World Series for the city left unfinished. In another way, however, it gave him a fresh start.

“Yeah, it’s fun,” Janssen said. “Like I said, this is a first-class organization. There’s a ton of awesome people in here, and talented baseball players. I’m lucky enough that they had interest in me. And I feel like as hard as it was to leave, I landed on my feet pretty good here.”

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