LOS ANGELES -- Chone Figgins didn't need to be released by the Marlins last March or sit out all of last season to earn the chip on his shoulder. It's something Figgins has always had -- the nagging desire to improve, to push his own boundaries.
The 36-year-old brought that mindset with him to Spring Training, and it's carried through with him this season as a Dodger.
"I've played with a chip on my shoulder from Day 1 of signing [to play] professional baseball, whether I was going good or whatever," Figgins said. "I've always played with a chip on my shoulder. Not in a cocky way. It's more of to keep getting better as a player."
After a brief stint in Triple-A Albuquerque in late April, Figgins has been a go-to player for manager Don Mattingly off of the bench. He batted leadoff and played third for the Dodgers in Monday night's 5-2 win against the White Sox, leading off the first with a single, and he batted seventh and played third on Tuesday.
Figgins is batting .244/.392/.317 on the season, but both he and Mattingly said that his bat speed has improved throughout the course of the season after sitting out all of last year.
"I've been putting a lot more better swings on the ball, so that's a good sign," Figgins said. "I'm driving some balls. I'm starting to play a little bit more, too. But as far as driving some balls, I'm starting to do that more, and I'm starting to hit my slots where I want to as far hitting balls in certain places."
A career .277 hitter, Figgins said he's never lost in faith in his skills.
"It was never doubt as far as my ability, it was more just upsetting that I didn't get picked up," Figgins said. "I had a good spring last year, and there was moves to be made, and I think that's what made it tougher more than anything.
"The more rewarding part is I'm showing that I still have it, after not playing for a year. I still have some more work to do, but it's moving in the direction I want it to."
Jansen happy to get back on hill, contribute to win
LOS ANGELES -- Even Mariano Rivera -- considered the game's best closer by many -- wasn't immune to rust.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, from his time in the Yankees organization, knows that better than anyone. So with the Dodgers leading the White Sox, 5-2, in the ninth inning Monday and with closer Kenley Jansen having not pitched since May 26, Mattingly pulled cruising starter Clayton Kershaw after just 97 pitches and handed Jansen the ball.
"Kenley hadn't pitched in four or five days, and I've had that experience with Mariano over the years," Mattingly said. "If you let a guy sit too long, it's not good. So I need to get him into a game."
If Jansen was rusty, he didn't show it. After allowing an infield single to lead off the night, the right-hander punched out the next three batters, including slugger Jose Abreu, who homered earlier in the evening.
"I just had to go out there and let it loose," Jansen said. "Sometimes when you have long days, five days, you have to go out there and be aggressive."
Jansen has converted his last 13 save opportunities since April 17 and is tied for the MLB lead with 17 saves. The Dodgers bullpen as a whole has excelled of late, posting scoreless outings in eight of its last 10 games.
Mattingly credited a more consistent starting staff for the bullpen's increased effectiveness.
"Early in the year we were worried about the number of games and usage," Mattingly said. "I think our starting pitching has put our bullpen back in order."
While Jansen, who's appeared in 28 games, will certainly take the rest, he said he was also itching to return to the mound.
"I want to get in there every day," he said. "The coaches are going to slow me down. Whenever we have a lead or something like that, I want to be out there and try to help my team."
Dodgers know historic stretch not likely
LOS ANGELES -- June treated the Dodgers kindly last season. Not only did it mark the arrival of Yasiel Puig -- who was called up one year ago Tuesday -- but it was also in June when the Dodgers began their historic, season-changing 42-8 run.
With the Dodgers sitting seven games behind first-place San Francisco in the National League West standings, another run of that magnitude would certainly be appreciated, but not expected.
"I know we're not relying on thinking we're going to go 42-8," manager Don Mattingly said.
The Dodgers have yet to win at the rate that many analysts predicted before the start of the season. They won three games in a row from May 25-27, but have lost five of their last seven. Following Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the White Sox, the Dodgers are 4-5 on their 10-game homestand.
Still, Mattingly said the best has yet to come for his team.
"At this point we're not playing good enough to be where we want to be, but we also know that we're good enough," he said. "And that means we need to play with a sense of urgency, and everything counts. It's as simple as that. It's not that complicated. If we can do that every day and grind it out, we're going to be fine."
• Right-handed reliever Chris Withrow underwent Tommy John surgery Tuesday in Penascola, Fla. The 25-year-old posted a 2.95 ERA in 20 games this season.
• Right-hander Chad Billingsley threw 35 pitches at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. Mattingly said he expects Billingsley to throw another bullpen, then -- if all goes well -- make his first rehab start.
Michael Lananna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.