LOS ANGELES — The Kenley Jansen rollercoaster ride has been a hot topic of conversation over the last few years. But on his second pitch in his outing on Sunday against the Nationals, something might’ve clicked for the most accomplished closer in franchise history.
Jansen said the specific feeling is hard to explain, but he credited some better timing with his mechanics. The result? Jansen had his best consistent velocity in a few years, sitting at 95 mph with the sinker, and 94 mph with the cutter. Both pitches had elite movement. Eight pitches later, Jansen had closed out the game.
“That was awesome,” said Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw after Jansen’s performance against the Nats. “That’s a great sign for the Dodgers.”
Kershaw is right. That is a great sign for a Dodgers team that looks to be as complete as any team in the history of the sport. Jansen’s improved timing and confidence were on display again on Wednesday in the Dodgers’ 4-2 win over the Rockies. The rollercoaster of emotions was also on display, as they tend to be whenever Jansen is on the mound.
Jansen walked Dom Núñez to begin the inning, causing the crowd at Dodger Stadium to get restless with the closer. The veteran, however, settled in and struck out the next three hitters he faced.
“I’m not perfect,” Jansen said. “I don’t want to come in walking guys. Not what I’m trying to do. We all want to win. To me, that’s just nonsense. It’s just noise. I’m going to continue to work my [tail] off and help the Dodgers win another championship. That’s what I’m here for.”
While Jansen’s velocity is up this season — and that usually correlates with his success on the mound — the biggest difference could be attributed to his mindset. Jansen changed his longtime warmup song “California Love” to 2Pac’s “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” because he wanted a “new beginning.”
That new beginning also comes with an edge. He’s pitching angry this season. The anger, however, is with himself.
“You have to be angry,” Jansen said. “Enough is enough. Sometimes you just put a little more into it. You want to get better. Sometimes anger helps.”
When told that his closer was pitching with anger, manager Dave Roberts was all for it.
“I like it. He should pitch angry. I like angry Kenley,” Roberts said. “This guy works so hard, he cares so much, just to see him get big outs for us. Really proud of him.”
The Dodgers were the first team to 10 wins this season and aren’t showing any signs of a championship hangover. Everything seems to be clicking. That includes an angry Kenley Jansen.
Jackie Robinson Day tributes
Approximately 75 Dodger players, coaches and staff members went out to center field in full uniform before Thursday’s series finale with the Rockies in order to take a moment in front of the Jackie Robinson statue outside of Dodger Stadium. It was an organizational idea, and Roberts addressed the team.
“I was just painting a picture,” Roberts said. “I’ve had the pleasure of knowing members of the Robinson family, so just to kind of shine a little light to our players on who Jackie was, I thought was helpful to our guys.”
“The Players Alliance is doing a lot of good for young kids of color,” Roberts said. “If me and my wife can do our part to help that, I think that’s a good thing.”
The Players Alliance is a non-profit organization founded by a group of active and former MLB players seeking to improve representation of Black Americans in the sport. The group is honoring Jackie Robinson’s life with the launch of Breaking Barriers campaign. Last week, Price announced he would be auctioning off his World Series ring and donating the money to The Players Alliance.
“One of the things that makes The Players Alliance so special is that it’s powered by the players, who give back with both their time and money,” said former MLB outfielder and current president of The Players Alliance Curtis Granderson. “Having Mookie and David support our Breaking Barriers campaign with the donation of their full game-day pay will hugely support our mission and enable increased opportunities. I have no doubt that Jackie would be proud of our efforts to keep building on his legacy of breaking barriers.”
Gavin Lux was scratched from the Dodgers’ starting lineup on Thursday with right wrist soreness. Lux was scheduled to start at shortstop with Corey Seager having a scheduled day off. It’s unclear when the infielder began to feel the discomfort in the wrist.
With Lux out of the lineup, the Dodgers had to significantly shuffle around their defensive alignments. Chris Taylor moved from center field to shortstop; Max Muncy moved from first to second; AJ Pollock moved from left to center; Zach McKinstry went from second base to right field; Edwin Ríos entered the lineup at first base.
Lux got off to a hot start at the plate, but he has cooled off over the last week, going 3-for-25 in his last 27 plate appearances.
Bellinger unlikely to play in San Diego
Dodgers star outfielder Cody Bellinger is eligible to come off the 10-day injured list on Friday, but Los Angeles will likely be without their starting center fielder this weekend against the Padres.
“I’m not going to say zero,” Roberts said, when asked about the chances of Bellinger playing this weekend. “But it’s pretty close to that number.”
Bellinger did some work in the pool on Thursday and will travel with the team on the upcoming road trip with the hope that he’ll be ready to be activated before the end of the five-game stretch. In his absence, Taylor and Betts will continue to handle most of the responsibilities in center field.