Kenley Jansen regains form to help Dodgers take series from Padres

Kenley Jansen regains form to help Dodgers take series from Padres
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen delivers a pitch during the team's win over the San Diego Padres on Saturday. Jansen has put in a couple of strong performances after giving up a win Friday to the Padres. (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

The Dodgers claimed another series, a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on Sunday marking their second win in the last three days at Petco Park.

If the aim for the Dodgers over the weekend was to maintain their collective momentum, for closer Kenley Jansen it was to rediscover his dominance.


Jansen blew a two-run lead in a series-opening defeat, but returned with a cleaner delivery to close out the last two games.

Jansen faced three batters Sunday and struck out all three.

"Today was as good as I've caught him all season long, the way the ball was moving," said catcher A.J. Ellis.

Jansen's 22 saves are the second-most in baseball, but the 6-foot-5 right-hander has been considerably more hittable than he was last season.

His earned-run average is an unremarkable 4.26. Opposing hitters are batting .264 against him.

But Jansen thinks that his three-run meltdown Friday led to the coaching staff finding the source of his problems.

In the aftermath of that game, assistant pitching coach Ken Howell and bullpen coach Chuck Crim studied video of Jansen. The next day, with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt by their side, Howell and Crim advised Jansen to make small changes to his form during a pregame bullpen session.

"Kenley's a big boy," said Manager Don Mattingly. "He can get out of line every once in a while. He's got a lot going on, he has a long arm swing. When that gets out of whack, all of a sudden, he's fighting against himself."

Jansen agreed.

"I've been pulling my head a little too early and my arm kept dragging and the ball didn't cut as much, the ball was flat and straight," he said. "We went back to the old tapes and saw how I threw last year.

"Now that ball has that cut again."

Mattingly figured Jansen would be fine as long as his delivery could be fixed. The manager wasn't concerned about Jansen's emotional resiliency.

"That closer has to be able to clean the slate," Mattingly said. "You've seen it over the years: Guys are going to give up games. It's just the way it is. The key is to bounce back. That's where Kenley's been pretty good. He seems to keep confidence, especially since he's grown up in this role a little bit."

The Dodgers are starting to gain a sense of identity. Their starting pitching remains among the best in baseball. Their defense and situational hitting are improving. They have won 10 of their last 14 games and are four games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West.


However, their relief pitching remains somewhat unsettled. Their bullpen's 15 losses are second-most in the NL and 3.82 ERA fourth-worse.

Left-hander J.P. Howell has also established himself as a dependable setup man. Howell leads the Dodgers in ERA (1.61) but also in appearances (37), meaning Mattingly has to be mindful of how often he uses him.

Mattingly's other preferred late-inning options these days are Brian Wilson and Brandon League, neither of whom has been consistent.

But with roles starting to be defined, Howell said he thinks the bullpen is finding its rhythm.

"It's a unit," he said. "It's hard to build that. We were a unit in April but it was still in the building process. Every year the bullpens change. The early part of the season is a process that has to happen, grow with each other, knowing who's behind you."

Jansen thinks the Dodgers will go as far as their bullpen will take them.

"Not because I'm a bullpen guy, but the biggest piece of this team is the bullpen," he said.

Jansen pointed to the win Sunday. Hyun-Jin Ryu limited the Padres to one run, but the bullpen had to protect a one-run lead over the final three innings. Howell pitched 1 1/3 innings and Wilson 2/3.

"A day like today, we have to pick the team up," Jansen said. "You're going to have days like that."