Roberts on Jansen: 'I expect him to close'

LA skipper says 'Kenley looks fantastic,' while aware of other worthy options

February 19th, 2021

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Thursday that, despite his struggles in the postseason, he expects to be Los Angeles’ closer when the team takes the field on Opening Day on April 1 against the Rockies.

“I’ve talked about it before in the sense that we’re at our best if Kenley is closing for us,” Roberts said Thursday. “But with that said, we have a lot of great viable options to finish a game. So right now, that’s kind of where it’s at, and Kenley looks fantastic. As I sit here right now, I expect him to close that first game of the season.”

Jansen has been a staple in the Dodgers’ bullpen since 2011 and has recorded 312 saves, the most in franchise history. Last season, Jansen had 11 saves while striking out 33 in 24 1/3 innings. At times, he looked like the Jansen of old. But other times, his command was lacking.

The right-hander finished with a 1.151 WHIP in 2020, a career high, and his rate of 3.3 walks per nine innings was his highest since his rookie season. Those issues were magnified in the postseason -- when Jansen allowed a run in three of his eight appearances, including a blown save in the 8-7 loss against the Rays in Game 4 of the World Series. That was Jansen’s last appearance of the season. Blake Treinen and Julio Urías closed out Games 5 and 6, respectively.

“Kenley had a really good year last year,” Roberts said. “I don’t think he was pitching his best in the postseason. But this is a new year. I expect him to have a great year.”

While Jansen had his struggles late in the season, he still had a solid season in ‘20. He isn’t quite the dominant pitcher he was nearly a decade ago, but he’s still able to induce soft contact. Last season, opposing hitters finished with a 14 percent hard-hit rate against Jansen, lowest in the Majors.

Roberts said he hasn’t had a conversation with Jansen about the closer role, and he doesn’t expect to. Jansen will get the majority of opportunities in the ninth at the start of the season, but the Dodgers have other options. Treinen, Joe Kelly, Brusdar Graterol and Victor González could get some opportunities if Jansen has some hiccups.

Jansen is entering the last year of a five-year, $80 million deal. It’s possible that the ‘21 season will be his last in Dodger Blue, but the team’s focus is on trying to become the first club to repeat since the New York Yankees won three in a row in 1998-2000.

They believe Jansen pitching in the ninth inning is their best chance to accomplish that.

“I think he’s earned the opportunity to start out as our closer,” Roberts said. “But at the end of the day, I want the guys that are pitching the best to finish the game. Kenley understands that, too.”