Improved Jansen and Kelly shine in relief

February 27th, 2020

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Not sure what it means for October, but the back end of the Dodgers bullpen seems way ahead of schedule in February.

Closer and setup man pitched an inning each in Wednesday’s 9-4 win over the Angels and combined for five strikeouts, with Jansen striking out all three batters he faced. Both pitchers stumbled late last season, both were determined during the offseason to find a better way and both are pleased with the results.

Both made trips to the Driveline Baseball headquarters in Washington state to have their mechanics analyzed and the early reviews are encouraging. Jansen’s velocity was 92-94 mph with life on the cutter.

“Pretty good for spring,” Jansen said. “Going to Seattle with scientists, seeing where I am now compared to where I was, that’s great information to have. Get to a better direction of what I used to be.”

Kelly was equally pleased to be throwing 99 mph with a 90-mph curveball.

“I don’t remember at the end of any Spring Training being able to throw that kind of velocity,” said Kelly. “My body feels healthy. That’s my biggest takeaway. Ninety-mile-an-hour curveball. I couldn’t do that when I was 21.”

No need to rehash what went wrong last postseason, but if there is a question mark on the loaded roster entering 2020, it’s the bullpen. Much depends on these two right-handers who had an up-and-down 2019.

“The ball is coming out for Kenley, but I think after last season, Kenley is coming in on a mission this year,” said manager Dave Roberts. “Almost an immaculate inning right there. You see the awkward swings with the ball through the hitting zone, that’s really the tell. The breaker was sharp today.

“Follow that up with Joe Kelly, saw some 98s [mph] on the board. He needs consistency, getting ahead. He’s got three plus pitches. Had a little bit of bad luck last year, then there was the health. I think we all learned a lot from Joe, in terms of how he handled that tough start.”

When asked if he can regain the form that made him the best closer in the National League, Jansen said his spring goal is pitch consistency and offered this spin on his season expectations.

“Be me now,” he said. “This is who I am today. We can’t think about yesterday and don’t know where I am tomorrow. Can I be myself, who I am today and be better? That’s who I am. Just be better each day. Not focus on who I was. Just, how can I help this team win ballgames? That’s how I’m thinking about it moving forward.”

After encountering vague physical discomfort late last season, Kelly said his offseason mission was to find a conditioning regime suited for his unique body, which can generate near-triple-digit fastballs despite a wiry build.

“For how small my frame and how small my muscles and tendons are wound, it takes a different specialization in the training room to get things activated right,” he said. “It was different than what I’m used to, but it shows so far.”

Kelly said his physical problems stem from bad mechanics, which leads to inconsistent pitching and unpredictable health.

“Not pitching in September going into the playoffs was because I physically couldn’t,” he said. “Now, I don’t feel it.”

His one-day session at Driveline made it clear that he’s been releasing his fastball with nearly all the force on only his middle finger, so he’s being conscious of keeping his index finger on the ball as well through the release.

Also impressive on Wednesday was left-handed reliever , whose shortened breaking ball drew praise from Roberts. Pitching prospect got the start and pitched one scoreless inning.