SAN DIEGO -- On the Tuesday drive to Petco Park from Los Angeles, Kenley Jansen’s phone rang. It was Charlie Hough, the longtime knuckleballer-turned-mentor that Jansen credits for turning a failed Minor League catcher into an All-Star closer.
This has been Jansen’s most difficult season in baseball since the 2009 conversion that rescued his career. Then, one week before the start of the postseason, Jansen got the call from Hough, and it was just what he needed.
“Charlie’s the man who brings happiness to me,” said Jansen, who has 32 saves and a chilled-but-unopened bottle of Dom Perignon teammates presented for his milestone.
“I was almost to the point where I was going to call it quits when they wanted me to start pitching. He gave me the opportunity to have fun. Getting that phone call from him, that was awesome. Just to hear him tell me to go out and have fun. Just to listen to his voice, it was a flashback. Kind of like relaxed me. The man just made me who I am from Day One as a pitcher. I hesitated to call him, but he must have sensed it.”
Jansen’s save on Wednesday, following a save on Tuesday, marked his first saves on consecutive days since May. Jansen and manager Dave Roberts talked before the game about the team’s dependence on him in October to pitch consecutive days, which the Dodgers have shied away from during his year-long slump.
“I know the second half hasn’t gone well at all,” Jansen said. “Just a lot of noise, let’s say it like that. I just have to show myself being here for my teammates. I never lost the confidence in myself. The numbers don’t look good when I go back-to-back, Doc and I talked about it today. It’s something I need to prove. Scientists are not right all the time and I want to prove them wrong.”
There is no statistic to measure the confidence level of the Dodgers when Jansen is on his game which, unfortunately, hasn’t been often enough this year.
“It hasn’t been easy, but lately he’s been pretty good,” said catcher Russell Martin. “It’s nice to celebrate No. 300 and make our way into the postseason with something positive. He had conviction, trust in his pitches. And he’s ramping up the mph’s, too.”
Jansen said he started to think about No. 300 after locking down No. 299, but he struggled to explain the importance, especially after being told only four others reached 300 saves with one franchise.
“What it means most is to help my team win a championship,” he said. “I never thought I’d be pitching, and now here I am with 300 saves. It’s a blessing. It’s awesome. Maybe I didn’t process it yet. Just trying to finish it by focusing on bringing the championship back to L.A.”
Jansen was the last of seven relievers the Dodgers used to secure their 102nd victory. Included was a rusty Ross Stripling, who struck out seven but allowed three runs in three innings as an opener; Dylan Floro and Julio Urías, like Jansen pitching on back-to-back days; Caleb Ferguson, with 1 1/3 scoreless innings and Casey Sadler, with one scoreless inning; Yimi García allowed a tying run; and rookie Dustin May, overpowering in one inning against the bottom of the batting order.
“This was the most consistent he’s thrown the baseball,” Roberts said of May, hinting that management still has doubts about the 21-year-old’s readiness for postseason pressure.
Jansen remains the closer, despite his shaky season, especially with the uncertainty of Joe Kelly’s health. The rest who pitched on Wednesday are on various parts of the bubble for postseason inclusion.
“It’s still sort of wide open,” said Roberts. “There’s still an opportunity for guys to make the playoff roster.”