GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Things looked a little different than most envisioned when the Dodgers beat the Rays last October to snap the organization’s 32-year World Series drought. The obvious difference was that the World Series was being played in the middle of a global pandemic and the Series was taking place at a neutral site in Arlington, as opposed to alternating between Los Angeles and St. Petersburg.
But for most Dodgers fans, when they envisioned that particular moment, it was Kenley Jansen on the mound recording the final out. Instead, Jansen was spectating from the bullpen as Julio Urías struck out Willy Adames to win the World Series.
“Team sport. When someone falls, somebody picks you up,” Jansen said Wednesday after the Dodgers' 4-3 win over the White Sox. “Most of the time, [I’ve] picked people up throughout my career. It’s a team sport. … At the end of the day, we all win a championship.”
There were a series of events that led to Jansen not being out on the mound for the last out of the World Series. It was a year that proved to be one of the most difficult in the right-hander’s storied career.
For starters, Jansen tested positive for COVID-19 at the start of Summer Camp and was away from the team for two weeks. Upon returning, Jansen was his dominant self, posting a 1.23 ERA in his first 16 appearances and limited opposing hitters to a .122 average.
As September rolled around, Jansen began to feel fatigued, which could have been a lasting effect of recovering from the virus, and his numbers began to take a hit. He allowed seven earned runs in his last 11 appearances, with five of them coming in one outing. But the real concern came from a decrease in velocity and a lack of command. The problems extended into the postseason as the right-hander blew the save and picked up the loss in Game 4 of the World Series. Last season, Jansen finished with a 1.15 WHIP, the highest mark of his career.
“It was a tough year last year, to be honest with you,” Jansen said. “Definitely getting COVID didn’t help for the two weeks, because I couldn’t work out and I couldn’t do anything. But things happen and we’re all human and you have to go through it and you have to deal with it. The good news is that my teammates picked up all of us and we won a championship.”
Because of his struggles, Jansen said his main focus this offseason and spring have been to improve the command that eluded him last season. He stayed in Los Angeles throughout the offseason instead of going back to Curaçao. Jansen said he did more running and emphasized becoming more explosive and quicker, as opposed to always doing heavy lifting.
So far, so good for Jansen, who tossed his fifth consecutive scoreless inning, striking out the side Wednesday. Jansen has faced 16 batters this spring and has struck out nine. On Wednesday, the right-hander saw his velocity jump to a consistent 92-93 mph.
“I feel great,” Jansen said. “Just gotta keep working hard, man. Just one day at a time and try to get better.”
But even with the strong start to his spring and added confidence, Jansen still hears when people start wondering if he’s the right man for the closer’s job. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts wasted no time to name him the closer this spring and Jansen still believes he could be a dominant closer in his 12th big league season.
“He didn’t have a bad year last year, I think he wasn’t throwing his best in the postseason and I think that people are quick to be reactionary,” Roberts said. “For me, to kind of continue to instill confidence that is deserved in a player, I think it’s important. Until there needs to be a change. And I don't think, with what he’s done recently, as far as last year, warrants talk about a change.”
Now that Jansen enters the final year of his deal with the Dodgers, the right-hander says he’s taking things day by day and isn’t taking anything for granted in his 17th year with the organization. He expressed his love for the only organization he knows, and the one that continues to back him up.
“We won the championship playing 60 games and we want to win another championship playing 162 games,” Jansen said. “That’s what we've got to do. We have to defend our title this year.”
Maybe this time, it’ll be Jansen recording the final out.