Dave Roberts isn’t committing to ditching Kenley Jansen as Dodgers’ closer
Dave Roberts kicked the can that is his closer controversy down the road another day, the Dodgers manager refusing to give up on Kenley Jansen but declining to commit to him pitching the late innings of another close playoff game.
Jansen had another erratic outing Wednesday in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, when he needed 30 pitches to record two outs and nearly blew a three-run ninth-inning lead in a 6-5 victory over the San Diego Padres.
Jansen faced five batters and gave up three hits — Jake Cronenworth‘s infield single that capped an 11-pitch at-bat, Mitch Moreland‘s RBI double and Trent Grisham‘s RBI single — before giving way to Joe Kelly. As his pitch count rose, his velocity declined and his command wavered.
With so little margin for error in the postseason, can Roberts trust Jansen in a high-leverage situation when he’s struggling like this?
“Um … I think right now, certainly, leverage matters,” Roberts said before Game 3. “I think I’m going to continue to watch the game, to talk to the pitching coaches, to talk to Kenley. I’m not gonna make that decision yet.”
With the game on the line, the Dodgers did not want Kenley Jansen to face perhaps the most frightening batter on the other team.
A decision to demote Jansen would be difficult — and emotional — for Roberts. Jansen, 33, holds franchise records for saves (312) and postseason saves (17) and has played an integral role in the team’s eight-year reign as division champions. He and the manager are close.
“I understand, and I’m very sensitive to what he has accomplished on the baseball field as a closer, as a premium All-Star,” Roberts said. “But we also have to look at real time and do what’s best for the Dodgers, and he understands that.”
Jansen went 3-1 with a 3.33 ERA and 11 saves in 24 games during the regular season, but his mechanics haven’t looked right for a month. He earned the save in the playoff opener against Milwaukee, but his command and velocity — one cut-fastball was clocked at 86 mph — were so alarming that Roberts used Brusdar Graterol as closer the next day.
“I don’t know the reason,” Roberts said, when asked if Jansen has any physical problems. “Watching video [from Wednesday night], there were some 93s mixed in with some 89s. I think more than anything, it’s the fluctuation of velocity and lack of consistency.
“We’re still digging in on it. With Kenley, regardless of velocity, when he’s executing and making quality pitches, he’s as good as anyone. But when you’re not executing and missing to the big part of the plate, then you’re not as good, and that’s something we’re constantly trying to figure out.”
Mookie Betts and Corey Seager’s seventh-inning double steal was a decision of their own making. Without it, the Dodgers might not have beat the Padres.
Jansen takes pride in being a closer, but Roberts said he is “not concerned about losing Kenley mentally” if Jansen is demoted.
“All he cares about is winning a championship for the city of Los Angeles,” Roberts said. “When he gets the baseball, I’m going to expect him to get outs. And he expects the same.”
Kelly, who is Jansen’s catch partner and locker mate, said Jansen remains upbeat and willing to contribute in any role.
“Obviously, he doesn’t like underperforming, but he’s a mentally tough guy,” Kelly said. “It’s not like he’s sitting around his locker pouting … or saying, ‘I’m not gonna pitch if I don’t pitch the ninth.’ He’s a good teammate. He’s taking it like a man. Whenever we need him, he’s gonna be there for us.”
No harm, no foul
The Dodgers took exception to Trent Grisham’s exaggerated bat flip after homering off Clayton Kershaw in a Sept. 15 game in Petco Park, but the Padres center fielder had no problem with Graterol’s over-the-top celebration of Cody Bellinger’s home run-robbing catch Wednesday night.
Graterol thrust his arms into the air and hurled his glove toward the dugout. He pounded his chest, pointed to the sky and tossed his cap. When San Diego slugger Manny Machado, who heaved his bat to the dugout after his sixth-inning homer, hurled a stream of expletives at Graterol, the reliever blew Machado a kiss.
“It’s not anything intentional — we’re trying to pump each other up,” Grisham said. “Manny hit the homer and tried to get us going. It was similar to when I hit the homer at our place and got us going. Everyone’s blood boils, and people don’t like it, but at the end of the day, we’re here to help our teams win.”
Does Grisham, 23, think it’s good for the game to show such emotion?
“Without a doubt,” he said. “The passion, the intensity, I’m sure the kids watching TV are loving it. When I watched games on TV, I loved seeing things like that. It’s fun, it’s part of what makes you want to play big league baseball.”
Justin Turner sets hit record
Justin Turner’s single in the third inning was his 64th in the postseason with the Dodgers, breaking Steve Garvey’s franchise record of 63.
Turner entered the game batting .294 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 58 postseason games spanning the last seven seasons. He has been especially production in the NLDS, entering the game 34 for 91 (.374) with four home runs and 20 RBIs.
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