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Kenley Jansen still the Dodgers’ go-to closer? Not so fast, Dave Roberts says

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen throws to the plate during the ninth inning.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen throws to the plate against the San Francisco Giants on Aug. 9.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Kenley Jansen will have a reduced role for the Dodgers in their National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres, manager Dave Roberts confirming on Sunday that the veteran closer will not automatically pitch the ninth inning when there is a save situation.

“Not in every game,” Roberts said on a video call in advance of the best-of-five NLDS, which begins Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas. “[He] might, but putting ourselves in that situation, where I can’t use him in a situation where I feel he’s the best option, isn’t the best decision for the Dodgers right now.”

Jansen recorded the final three outs of the wild card-series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, but he walked a batter, threw almost as many balls (seven) as strikes (nine) and was helped by Christian Yelich, who swung at three pitches outside the strike zone while making the final out.

Padres starting pitchers Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet are dealing with injuries that jeopardize their availability against Dodgers in the NLDS.

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More concerning: The eight cut-fastballs Jansen threw averaged 88.1 mph, a significant drop from his 91-mph regular-season average, and one was clocked at 86 mph, prompting Roberts to say after the game that the right-hander’s stuff lacked “teeth.”

Roberts said before Game 2 against Milwaukee that Jansen would “absolutely” remain the closer, but with a 3-0 ninth-inning lead, the manager turned to hard-throwing rookie right-hander Brusdar Graterol to close the series.

The Padres have a much more formidable lineup than the Brewers, with Fernando Tatis, Jr., Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers at the top of the order, and they’re known for their late-strike capabilities, so Roberts will look for the best late-inning matchups while employing Jansen anywhere from the sixth through ninth.

Roberts also has more attractive late-inning options this October — Graterol, right-handers Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez and Joe Kelly, left-handers Adam Kolarek, Jake McGee and Victor Gonzalez —than he had in past seasons, and he appears more willing to use them, even at the risk of alienating Jansen.

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MLB has released the start times of the divisional rounds, and the Dodgers will play night games against the San Diego Padres beginning Tuesday.

“He’s our closer, but there’s still opportunities,” Roberts said of Jansen, who had a high-intensity workout in which he threw to live batters in Globe Life Field on Saturday. “I talked to Kenley [Saturday], just to be on the same page.

“There are still going to be times that I might need him in a different inning, and he’s on-board with whatever to help us win baseball games. It’s a title, but I think that in practice, there are certain innings and certain parts of the lineup that I think he’s the best option. We’ll proceed that way.”


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