As Kenley Jansen continued to work through inconsistencies this season, the Los Angeles Dodgers adjusted the usage of their closer. No longer would Jansen be exclusively saved for save opportunities, but rather he’d essentially pitch at least once per series.
The hope was more regular work would aid Jansen’s quest to recapture the mechanics that propelled him to becoming a dominant relief pitcher. The results remained a mix bag, but ahead of the National League Division Series beginning, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts reaffirmed the club’s commitment to Jansen as the closer.
After he didn’t appear in the opener against the Washington Nationals — a 6-0 victory — Roberts said Jansen was expected to pitch in Game 2. He added it was possible that would come in the eighth inning.
On the surface that could be interpreted as Jansen seeing his role change, but Roberts insisted that was not the case, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
“It’s about getting outs,” Roberts said. “He understands that and appreciates that. Don’t read too much into it. I’m just saying he’s in such a good place. I’m telling you this is as good a place as he’s been in in two years. I’m telling you.
“This is the best mind frame he’s been in. So that speaks to his openness to pitch whenever there are important outs to be had. He understands that. That’s very telling. There’s no demotion, and I don’t know how it’s going to play out. He’s our closer. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t important outs in the eighth inning that we need him to get. When there’s six outs on the board, those three outs are important.”
Jansen didn’t appear in the Dodgers’ loss but did begin to warm up as the team attempted to rally in the bottom of the ninth inning. Pedro Baez, Kenta Maeda, Adam Kolarek, Joe Kelly, Julio Urias and Dustin May are relief pitchers the Dodgers have used in various leverage situations.
Kelly figures to be the candidate most likely to close for the Dodgers in the event Jansen is not used for a save situation. Though, Maeda and Urias additionally earned saves during the season as well.
Even as his standing as the undisputed closer is on shaky ground, Roberts has continued to speak highly of Jansen. “I think the outside voices, noise, distractions, were starting to bleed into his head: as far as sequencing, opinions on his performance,” he said.
“We got him back to eliminating that. Most of it was self-induced, to be honest with you. He’s got to get back to just pitching and worrying about executing pitches. That right there, I think he’s done that. If he continues, which I expect, the results will be there.”