Jansen closes at Colorado, site of heart issues

April 7th, 2019

DENVER -- Dr. Koonlawee Nademanee deserved the save for the Dodgers on Saturday night, but the official scorer gave it to , anyway.

Jansen was on the mound for the final four outs of the Dodgers’ 7-2 win over the Rockies, but only because of the successful 5 1/2-hour heart procedure the cardiologist performed on Jansen in November that saved, well, more than a game.

Last August, for the second time in six years, Jansen experienced an irregular heartbeat in Denver. He skipped the Dodgers’ September trip to Colorado because he was at high risk of a stroke if he returned to elevation. He pitched in September and October -- struggling at times -- while on blood pressure medication.

Despite assurances from the doctor that he was no longer at risk, Jansen admitted to apprehension before his return. His first outing back at Coors Field was high-stress – a three-run lead, two outs in the bottom of the eighth, runners on first and second. Jansen struck out Ian Desmond to end the eighth.

“Felt like my mechanics really clicked,” said Jansen. “That muscle memory you’re looking for, I felt it.”

The Dodgers padded the cushion with two more runs in the ninth inning, and Jansen pitched around a leadoff double by Mark Reynolds to notch his fourth save of the year. When he taps his heart after the final out each game he’s in, he’s serious.

“I feel great. I feel amazing,” said Jansen. “It’s not in my mind [pitching at altitude], it’s just that I’m glad I got this one. I definitely feel great about it.”

So do the Dodgers. Long term, Jansen is as important as any player on the club, and they need him healthy and nailing down victories. And short term, the bullpen is always taxed at Coors Field, this time having been called on for eight innings in the first two games.

Manager Dave Roberts maneuvered through the final 12 outs while trying not to use Joe Kelly, who escaped serious injury when he knocked down a line drive with his glove Friday night. That meant four outs from Jansen, ready or not.

“Kenley’s been waiting for quite some time to get out here and to prove himself [that] he’s fine at altitude,” Roberts said. “My fear was that he would try to do too much, but he was really composed out there, calm and executing pitches. Checking that box, to go four outs, was huge for him.”

Kenta Maeda pitched five innings Friday night, followed by six relievers over the final four innings. On Saturday night, Walker Buehler was much improved from his three-plus innings first start, but he lasted only five innings, as well.

The Dodgers’ offense was mashing, as usual. Cody Bellinger tripled and doubled. Alex Verdugo homered and tripled, extending the club record to a homer in the first nine games of the season. Justin Turner went 3-for-4 and was hit by a pitch.

But Buehler left 12 outs to record. This time, the Dodgers used five relievers, with Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia and Dylan Floro now having pitched in both games and likely unavailable on Sunday.

When Jansen got to the mound in the eighth, he took a moment, he said, to catch his breath before going to work and focused on pitching, not his health.

“In Coors Field, in Denver, you want every pitch you make to be a quality pitch, and you don’t want to be out of breath and have a bad result,” he said. “Just take my time and face the next hitter.”

Jansen was under orders from his doctor not to get dehydrated, which was the genesis of his irregular heartbeat. He said he consumed seven liters of water daily since he arrived. He also had a precautionary EKG taken on Friday, the results of which were sent to his cardiologist.

“He’s in Bangkok, he texted me, he was watching,” said Jansen. “I know he’s going to ask why I gave up that double.”

Jansen’s only disappointment was being told not to swing the bat during a ninth-inning at-bat. The converted catcher was called out on a 3-2 strike.

“Closer, hasn’t taken swings in six months or a year, so there’s not a lot of upside to that,” said Roberts.

Said Jansen: “Yeah, definitely, it’s fun to hit. It’s not fun to hit as a catcher, but it’s fun to hit as a pitcher. But got to listen to your manager, got to protect myself. You don’t want to ask for trouble there. My job is to pitch.”