LOS ANGELES -- A recent article asked whether Kenley Jansen can turn back into Kenley Jansen by tonight. When the Dodgers closer read it, he got angry."I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at the question and I'm fired up to be that guy again," Jansen said before the team
LOS ANGELES -- A recent article asked whether Kenley Jansen can turn back into Kenley Jansen by tonight. When the Dodgers closer read it, he got angry.
"I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at the question and I'm fired up to be that guy again," Jansen said before the team worked out at Dodger Stadium in preparation for tonight's Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Braves.
"I have a responsibility to this team. I want that responsibility. You build on failure. It's been a tough season, but I've learned a lot. From this moment, it's on. There's nothing I won't do to get us a World Series."
Manager Dave Roberts met with Jansen on the field during the workout. Throughout Jansen's struggles, Roberts hasn't wavered in his support.
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"My confidence level is high and my expectation for him to pitch well in this series is the same, as it has been the last three years," said Roberts. "He's shown to perform on this stage, in this environment. And that's what I'm going to pull from, his teammates are going to pull from, and I'm going to encourage him to pull from.
"So, I know that Kenley is a very confident player, so I don't think that it's a concern of his, and it's not mine either. I'm going to talk to him and just confirm that he's in a good head space, which I expect he is."
Kenta Maeda was the primary closer when Jansen missed 10 days in August, but the bullpen is best if Maeda is the primary setup man for Jansen, with Pedro Baez and Dylan Floro helping from the right side and Scott Alexander, Alex Wood and Caleb Ferguson from the left side.
Jansen, 31, hasn't been his usual dominating self all season. After a Herculean workload last October, he took the club's suggestion to coast through Spring Training, which led to a late hamstring injury, which led to a 5.59 ERA in April. He righted the ship for a third All-Star berth, but in Denver in August he endured a repeat episode of the irregular heartbeat he first experienced in Denver in 2012.
He underwent heart surgery that winter and is facing it again this winter, which would weigh on anybody.
"No excuses," Jansen said.
Additionally, he is on medication that reduces the chances for another episode, but also makes Jansen sluggish. Getting his adrenaline pumping takes extra effort, especially when he's pitching with a comfortable lead, as he did on Monday when he was greeted by back-to-back home runs by Colorado's Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story.
When the Dodgers played in Colorado in September, Jansen skipped the series at the suggestion of doctors. Should the Dodgers and Rockies meet in the NL Championship Series, he and the club will be faced with an even tougher decision.
But he's got enough on his plate right now.
"Kenley will be fine," said pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "For a closer, it's hard when the game is not on the line. There's a different mindset and adrenaline when you have that big lead. That extra level of intensity that you have to have is not there. You saw him Monday, after a couple of home runs, he locked it in, trusted his stuff and he shut them down. Look, we're only going to get where we want to go with having him be there."
Jansen has set an incredibly high bar. He allowed 13 home runs this season, more than double his previous high. His 3.01 ERA is a career high. He's at his best when he gets batters to chase -- 62 of his 82 strikeouts have been on the edges or outside, according to Statcast™. But the chase rate on his cutter, the primary punchout pitch, has dropped from 31.1 percent before he went on the disabled list with the heart issue to 23.1 percent since.
His cutter velocity is practically the same since he came back from the disabled list, but opponents' batting average against the cutter was .171 before the heart issue and .264 after.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.
MLB.com's Daniel Kramer contribute to this article.