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Kenley Jansen on his steely stare toward Dodgers’ dugout: ‘It was: Let’s go’

Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen and catcher Will Smith celebrate after the final out of a 7-3 win.
Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen and catcher Will Smith celebrate after the final out of a 7-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the NLCS on Friday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Kenley Jansen fired his hardest pitch of the night. Then he shot his dugout a fiery, intense stare.

Observers on social media tried to decipher its meaning. Was it a scowl at manager Dave Roberts for reducing his role in the bullpen? Was it a glare at his teammates, reminding them of his dominance after striking out the side to finish Game 5 of the National League Championship Series?

Was it an internal release of frustration after another round of questions and criticism over the once-dominant closer’s recent decline?

No, Jansen said during a video call with reporters Saturday morning. The look was intentional, but it’s meaning was much simpler than that.

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“It was, ‘Let’s go,’ ” Jansen said. “That’s the feeling: ‘Let’s go. This series is not over.’ ”

If anyone on the Dodgers had a reason to give in by now, it would be the 32-year-old right-hander. Like an aging clock, the gears in Jansen’s delivery hadn’t been clicking in recent weeks. His cutter didn’t look sharp. His already diminished velocity had taken a nosedive. And after nearly blowing a save in Game 2 of the NLDS, when he was removed after allowing three hits and two runs in two-thirds of an inning, he pitched on Wednesday in the sixth inning of a 14-run game.

But then came Friday. Everything Jansen threw suddenly had life again.

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As the best option left in the Dodgers’ depleted bullpen to finish off the team’s 7-3 elimination-game win over the Atlanta Braves, he struck out all three batters with just 12 pitches in the ninth. His last throw was clocked at 94 mph, one of his hardest of the year.

Then he turned and looked at his team, a silent expression that spoke volumes about his mind-set.

“I never lose confidence in myself,” Jansen said. “I will never lose confidence. That’s the one thing. The minute I lose confidence in myself, I will stop playing this game. That’s how I felt. So the confidence is going to be there.”

Jansen’s self-belief was only reinforced by what he felt on the mound, when his natural movement returned to his pitches and he successfully repeated his mechanics over and over again.

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Highlights from the Dodgers’ 7-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the NLCS on Friday.

“For that to sync in and it clicks, it makes it a little bit easier,” Jansen said. “I’m not saying this game is easy. This game is not easy. It’s really hard. But it makes it easier to go out there and compete. Not to worry about things. Just trust it and let it go.”

Jansen had been trading phone calls and texts with former Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and longtime mentor Charlie Hough, the pitching instructor who helped the former catcher transition to the mound more than 10 years ago.

“They showed me pictures of the past and how everything was working together and it wasn’t quite the same,” Jansen said. “Kind of get back to that, to make my delivery simple like it was and repeat it. It shows.”

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Jansen, who will be available to pitch in Saturday’s Game 6, according to manager Dave Roberts, said all the chatter surrounding his recent setbacks from fans, pundits and media members was just “noise.” If losing his grip on the closer’s role is bothering him, he downplayed those frustrations too.

Kenley Jansen’s performance in the Dodgers’ win over the Atlanta Braves begs the question: Should the Dodgers trust him again to deliver late in games?

“When it comes to playoffs, it’s not about the role,” Jansen said, adding, “It’s when can you be in the best position to help your team win. I’ve been here for a long time and there’s nothing else to have [except] a ring here with this organization. That’s the last thing I feel like we need to accomplish here. We want it. Want it for everyone. The fans deserve it. It’s about winning a championship here.”

His stare into the dugout after Friday’s final out was a reminder of that objective, that even with the Dodgers still facing a 3-2 deficit in the series, their season isn’t finished. Those goals can still be reached.

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“We just got to be desperate out there and just go out there and compete,” Jansen said. “Those guys need to still try to close it out, 27 outs. It’s not hard. We have a team that we can come back and win three games, so it’s not over. We all feel that same way, the group texts that we’re having, cheering each other on. That’s the staring. The staring is, ‘Let’s go. This is not over.’ ”


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