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Jansen bounces back strong, wants more work

Dodgers' closer puts away D-backs in non-save situation night after setback
@kengurnick
August 11, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- After Kenley Jansen blew a save on Friday night, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he’ll continue to run his closer out to the mound and, based on the Dodgers’ 4-0 win over Arizona on Saturday night, not just in save situations. Jansen pitched the ninth inning with

LOS ANGELES -- After Kenley Jansen blew a save on Friday night, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he’ll continue to run his closer out to the mound and, based on the Dodgers’ 4-0 win over Arizona on Saturday night, not just in save situations.

Jansen pitched the ninth inning with a four-run lead, and both the closer and manager indicated regular usage is needed for Jansen to sharpen his form, even if the usage isn’t normal for a closer.

“As he’s working through things, a credit to him, it’s not a save situation, but going forward I think Kenley is understanding and realizing if he’s on a regular schedule and pitching more often, he can stay more in sync with rhythm,” said Roberts. “For him to be open to it certainly makes my job easier, because you can't predict when a save situation will arise.”

Jansen said the more he throws, the more consistent he’ll get.

“Everything tonight was so much better,” Jansen said after throwing on back-to-back days for the first time since June 22-23. “You guys can watch it, the cutter feels so much better today than yesterday. My direction was better, the ball was coming out so much easier. The one thing hurting me is not hitting my spots like I used to.”

Before Saturday’s game, Jansen threw a 10-pitch bullpen session with Roberts and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, focusing on using his lower half. After that session, Roberts issued an immediate vote of confidence.

“Do I have any concerns? No,” said Roberts. “I know he’s working through some things. And I know for us to win 11 games in October, we need him. I know he’ll get there. We’re going to continue to run him out there. He’s done it many times over. He had a good ‘pen today. If the situation arises tonight, he’ll be back out there.”

Jansen allowed a two-run, game-tying home run to Carson Kelly in the top of the ninth inning Friday night for his fifth blown save of the year. He had six all last year. Two innings later, Kelly homered off Julio Urias for a 3-2 Arizona win.

Jansen is now 31 and he increasingly is adding the slider and sinking fastballs to the cutter he has relied on since arriving on the scene in 2010 and drawing comparisons to Mariano Rivera.

“It’s tough when you’ve been a one-pitch pitcher your entire career and you’re still trying to evolve and have comfort and sequencing and keeping hitters honest,” said Roberts. "He’s done it, he can handle it and he’ll be just fine.

“The last couple years have probably been the most difficult for him as far as maintaining the delivery and consistency. He’s not afraid to put the effort in to work on it and that’s what we’re betting on. In the early part of his career, he just overpowered the league. And there was some unfamiliarity there. Now, you’ve got to continue to evolve. That’s what players have to do.”

According to FanGraphs, since 2012 Jansen has averaged anywhere from 93.4 percent cutters to 84 percent until this year, when he’s throwing cutters only 77.1 percent of the time. The sinker, which he threw 1.1 percent of the time in 2012, is up to 11.6 percent. The slider, at only 5.8 percent last year, has jumped to 11.3 percent this year.

In addition to sequencing pitches from an expanded repertoire, Roberts said Jansen is working on his delivery because whatever flaw exists causes his pitches to flatten out and lose life.

“When he’s not staying back and the arm can’t catch up or he’s flying open and getting more lateral east/west, he goes sideways,” said Roberts.

Worth noting

• Roberts said Dodgers No. 1 prospect Gavin Lux, who is tearing up the Pacific Coast League with Triple-A Oklahoma City, will likely join the Dodgers in some fashion this season, but he was vague whether it would be before Sept. 1, and wouldn’t even commit that the 21-year-old would be active. Roberts mentioned as a possibility an “apprenticeship” similar to last year with catcher Will Smith, who traveled and trained with the club in September but was never activated.

• Roberts said the rotation will remain unchanged when the club opens a trip in Miami on Tuesday night, despite having two scheduled days off in a five-day span.

That would line up Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May and Walker Buehler against the Marlins, with Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kershaw in Atlanta.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.