There wasn’t a hint of fear or trepidation in Kenley Jansen’s voice as the burly closer discussed his return to the Dodgers after an 11-day absence because of symptoms related to an irregular heartbeat.
“I’m not thinking about my heart; I’m not,” Jansen said before Monday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Dodger Stadium. “You have no control over your heart, so if it goes, it goes. That’s how I think.
“I’m in great shape. I do a lot of running during the down times. So, I’m ready to go. We’re, what, two games back with 37 games left? It’s go-time now. I don’t need to be babied. And I’m sure I’m not going to be babied. My heart is fine.”
Jansen, who last appeared in a game Aug. 7 at Oakland, was cleared to pitch after a follow-up visit with his cardiologist Monday, providing a huge boost to a bullpen that floundered in his absence.
The right-hander was taken off blood thinners. He will continue to take heart medication but said he’s “down to one pill a day.” He will take daily EKGs through an application on his smart phone and send them to the team’s medical staff.
Jansen estimated that there is a “90% chance” that he will need another ablation surgery this winter, repeating the one he had six years ago to treat a similar condition, but he expects to pitch without restrictions for the rest of the season.
The joke around Dodger Stadium is that most fans have been on heart medication since Jansen went on the disabled list.
Relievers blew late-game leads in seven consecutive games from Aug. 9 through last Wednesday, with the Dodgers losing five and dropping out of first place in the National League West. And on Saturday night at Seattle, Dylan Floro balked in the winning run in the 10th inning of a 5-4 loss to the Mariners.
The Dodgers entered Monday night’s game with 23 blown saves, tied with the Colorado Rockies for the second-most in the major leagues.
Jansen’s return will allow the team to push converted starter Kenta Maeda and left-hander Scott Alexander, who had been sharing closing duties, to set-up roles. Pedro Baez, J.T. Chargois, Dylan Floro and Caleb Ferguson would have lower-leverage relief roles.
“It’s a big lift, especially with how this last week went,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It puts guys in their rightful spots in the bullpen and I can use them the way I feel is best. He’s the best in the game, so to have him in the back end changes the way they’re going to manage and the way I’m going to manage as well.”
The Dodgers feared Jansen might be sidelined for four to six weeks when the right-hander was rushed to a hospital in an ambulance after suffering another episode of atrial fibrillation in Denver on Aug. 9.
Jansen was sidelined for a month in the 2011 season and three weeks in 2012 after being prescribed blood thinners for similar heart-related conditions, and he resumed taking the medications after doctors shocked his heart back to normal.
Jansen returned to the clubhouse four days after being sent home from Denver, full of his usual smiles and laughter. He threw an inning off the Dodger Stadium mound last Wednesday and another simulated inning in Seattle on Friday.
Jansen, who converted 32 of 35 save opportunities and had a 2.15 earned-run average in 51 games before going on the disabled list, was cleared after undergoing a stress test and other exams Monday. He donned a T-shirt that declared, “I’m back,” for an early workout.
“He’s excited,” Roberts said before the game. “I talked to him, and it seems like he’s ready to pitch two innings tonight. We’ll temper that excitement, but for our club, it’s a huge lift.”
This was not the first time Jansen’s heart started racing in the mile-high altitude of Denver, but Jansen has no plans to avoid Colorado. The Dodgers return to Coors Field for a three-game series against the Rockies starting Sept. 7.
While altitude can trigger atrial fibrillation, so can dehydration. Jansen said that he had diarrhea in Oakland the day before the Dodgers played in Colorado and suspected his body might have been depleted of minerals and fluids.
“I just have to get over that hump,” Jansen said. “You can’t be afraid of life and what could happen. At the same time, I just have to take care of myself, stay hydrated, and go back out there again.”