by Rowan Kavner
Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers’ all-time saves leader, entered this postseason with a more undefined role than years past. He might not close every game. In Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, he pitched in an unfamiliar sixth inning.
But after the Dodgers’ roaring comeback in Game 5, with his team nursing a four-run lead, Jansen got the ninth in a non-save situation. The two-time National League Reliever of the Year promptly shut down the Braves, striking out the side in overpowering fashion.
After a year spent tweaking mechanics and searching for consistency, he felt everything click. That feeling, which he hopes to build on with the Dodgers’ October hopes still alive, was manifold.
“Definitely excitement. Definitely relief,” Jansen said. “To carry the confidence I always have, and for that to sync in and it clicks, it makes it a little bit easier.”
Jansen said his confidence never wavered, even when the feel for his cutter came and went.
At the start of September, he was coming off being named the Reliever of the Month. Jansen had a 1.23 ERA in July and August. The start of September wasn’t as kind. He allowed three runs (two earned) against Arizona on Sept. 8. In his next outing, he was charged with five runs without recording an out against Houston.
Jansen rebounded, not allowing a run in his final six outings of the regular season. But his cutter’s speed and bite varied from appearance to appearance. The Dodgers entered this postseason with a plan to go with a matchup-based approach to the end of games.
Still, he said, he believed in himself.
“I will never lose confidence in myself,” Jansen said. “The minute I lose confidence in myself, I will stop playing this game.”
He accepted any role handed to him. In four of his five outings this October, it’s still been the ninth inning. But that’s not necessarily guaranteed. He said he’s OK with that, and he’s not listening to any outside chatter.
“You can’t worry about noise at this time,” Jansen said. “That’s all a distraction. The conversations that we have here, it’s not that. It’s about how we can win ballgames. You simplify your game and don’t worry about noise.”
As he considered how he could best help his team win games, he wanted to go back to the basics. This year, his cutter came in as fast as 94.3 mph (Aug. 17) and as slow as 86.9 mph (Sept. 25). He said regardless of his velocity, all he cares about is getting outs.
But he acknowledged the timing with his arms and legs hadn’t synced up. Two of his former mentors helped out with that.
Over the last few days, Jansen said he exchanged calls and texts with former Dodger pitching coaches Rick Honeycutt and Charlie Hough. They showed him pictures of his past and how his arms and legs matched up. The goal was to simplify his delivery and repeat it.
“That’s about this organization,” Jansen said. “This organization is first-class. It’s how everybody cares.”
On Friday, needing just 12 pitches to strike out Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley and Johan Camargo, Jansen felt everything sync up.
His two-seamer, which averaged 92.3 mph this year, eclipsed 94. His cutter, which averaged 90.9 mph this year, eclipsed 93. His teammates loved what they saw.
“There’s some narratives going on about Kenley and all this, but we haven’t lost faith in Kenley,” said Kiké Hernández. “We haven’t lost confidence. We know who he is. We know what type of closer he is.
“I think bringing him in with fans in the stands and the intensity of these games is going to elevate his game as well. He showed that last night. He pitched like he had a chip on his shoulder, and that’s a good thing. That’s the Kenley we need. That’s the Kenley we know we’ve got, and we believe in Kenley.”
Manager Dave Roberts said he thought Jansen’s tempo and delivery looked smoother and cleaner. The execution was clearly better. Corey Seager said after a year spent tinkering his mechanics, searching for something he couldn’t find, it was nice to see Jansen pound the strike zone and attack.
“That was very comforting to see for him,” Seager said. “That’s got to be a huge relief for him.”
It gives him something to build on, whether his next outing’s in the ninth inning or the sixth, with the Dodgers looking for two wins to return to the World Series.
“We want it,” Jansen said. “We want it for everyone. The fans deserve it. It’s about winning a championship here.”
- Roberts said Chris Taylor (ankle) is moving around better Saturday and will be available if the situation calls for it in Game 5. Taylor is not in the starting lineup after hurting his ankle in left field in Game 4.
Jansen feels mechanics ‘click,’ returning to basics with assistance of mentors was originally published in Dodger Insider on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.