Column: Having Kenley Jansen sit out for the trip to Colorado is the smart choice for his health and the Dodgers’ long-term plan
This was a city that watched a local college basketball star crumble to the floor and later learned that he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Mention that an athlete has a heart problem and Los Angeles reflexively thinks of Hank Gathers.
So let’s start here by calming everyone’s greatest fear: Based on what Kenley Jansen was told this week by his cardiologist, what happened to Gathers on a basketball court shouldn’t happen to him on a baseball field, whether it’s Dodger Stadium or Coors Field.
“Life is not in danger,” Jansen said.
When the Dodgers weighed the risks and rewards of taking Jansen with them to Colorado this week, what they had to consider was whether having their All-Star closer for the three-game series against the first-place Rockies was worth jeopardizing his availability for the remaining 19 games of the regular season.
The decision was made for them. The doctor’s advice trumped Jansen’s desire to pitch, as well as the Dodgers’ wish to avoid calling on Scott Alexander to protect a ninth-inning lead in the National League’s highest-scoring environment.
“We have to sometimes take it out of the player’s hands to do what’s best for him,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Jansen said his cardiologist warned him that exposure to the high altitude of Coors Field could make his heart beat irregularly, as it did when he visited there last month. He spent 10 days on the disabled list then. Another episode could end his season.
“I’d rather skip this one and try to help the team when we get to Cincinnati,” Jansen said.
Jansen will rejoin the team Monday for the start of a three-game series against the Reds.
It was the safe call. The right call too.
Jansen also experienced an irregular heartbeat at Coors Field in 2012. He underwent heart surgery that winter.
The Dodgers can be swept this weekend and their deficit to the Rockies will remain manageable. They play them three more times later in the month at Dodger Stadium.
Jansen pointed to how his most recent case of the atrial fibrillation was expected to sideline him for four to six weeks.
Consider the team’s long-term goals and the decision becomes even more of a no-brainer.
The Dodgers are looking to win a World Series. They would feel better about themselves if they are eliminated in an NL division series than in the regular season, but both endings would count as failures.
And the only way they will reach their ultimate objective is to find a dependable bridge from the starting pitchers to Jansen, which means they will have to find three or four relievers whom they can trust.
If the Dodgers have the proper personnel in place, as Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi have insisted, they should be able to survive a three-game series in Colorado without a repeat of what happened there last month when they also didn’t have Jansen.
The Dodgers lost the last three games of that four-game series, with their bullpen charged with the defeat each time.
“When I was in my rough patch when I came back, these guys were dominating,” Jansen said. “So I believe in each one of these guys.”
Regardless of Jansen’s endorsement, the upcoming weekend should nonetheless be frightening for Roberts.
What did Roberts do to deserve this? Steal Girl Scout cookies?
No manager should be subjected to this kind of terror, especially not Roberts, who is universally regarded as a good man.
Imagine, the Dodgers have a one- or two-run lead in the ninth inning in that powder keg of a ballpark and running out of that bullpen will be … who?
Scott Alexander? Kenta Maeda? Pedro Baez?
Roberts might as well close his eyes, turn around and say the pitcher’s name three times. Maybe his team’s lead will magically double.
“At the end of day, I have three children and I want to see them get old, graduate and all that stuff,” Jansen said. “I would love to help the team, but at the same time, I have to take it easy. I can’t force the issue.”
Jansen kept his arm active by pitching a scoreless ninth inning Wednesday in a 7-3 defeat to the New York Mets. He is scheduled to visit a cardiologist Thursday. He will undergo an MRI examination Friday. He will work out at the gymnasium he built in his house and play catch. He will travel to Cincinnati on Sunday.
And if the Dodgers are paired with the Rockies at any point in the postseason, Jansen said he would “definitely” travel to Colorado. What the other pitchers in the bullpen do this weekend, and in the weeks that follow, will determine whether he gets a chance to make that decision.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez
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