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Newsletter: Dodgers Dugout: Meet your new closer (same as the old closer): Kenley Jansen

Kenley Jansen pitches in an exhibition game earlier this month.
Kenley Jansen pitches in an exhibition game earlier this month.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell.

Remember the last couple of seasons, and how your stomach would get butterflies almost every time Kenley Jansen would come in for a save? Get ready for that again.

Jansen will start the season as the closer again, and barring a total disaster, will probably remain in that role all season.

Let’s get one thing clear from the beginning: Everyone wants Jansen to succeed. He is the best closer in team history and it would be great to seem him excel again.

However, the days of consistent Jansen dominance are clearly over. No shame in that. He will turn 34 this year and has had a series of heart problems and ablations that would have sent many others off to retirement.

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It’s often forgotten, but Jansen was the NL Reliever of the Month in August last season after giving up only two runs in 14.2 innings, giving up six hits and six walks while striking out 21. He held opponents to a .122 batting average.

Then, in September, he gave up nine runs in 9.2 innings, giving up 13 hits, walking three and striking out 12. Opponents hit .317.

Expect more of the same this season. Flashes of brilliance where his velocity is up. Flashes of mediocrity when he velocity is down.

The frustrating part for many Dodgers fans (I know, because I get your emails), is that it is obvious pretty quickly when the bad Jansen is on the mound. His pitches don’t move much and his velocity is down. But he is usually left in there to struggle, often blowing the save or the game.

But Dave Roberts is sticking with him.

There is one difference this season though. Jansen is in the final year of his contract, so he will have extra incentive to have a great year.

“That’s a good thing for him and that’s a good thing for the Dodgers,” Roberts said. “Yeah, I definitely think he’s motivated, or if you want to put it [that he] has something to prove. Bottom line is I like where he’s at.”

And Jansen still has strong faith in himself.

Andrew [Friedman], [Roberts] and the whole front office know what I’m capable of doing,” Jansen said. “They’re not going to go out there and just announce that I’m the closer. They see my workouts. I put everything I got to get my offseason right.”

Jansen stayed in the L.A. area during the offseason instead of returning to Curacao. He worked on improving his command, ran more and did less weightlifting.

So prepare yourself for some outrage. Keep the Tums near the TV and hope for the best. We’ve all been on this ride before. It’s wilder than Space Mountain, only no one was in a big hurry to hop in line again.

Predicting the 26-man roster

Who will be on the roster Opening Day, April 1? Let’s guess.

Catchers (2)
Austin Barnes
Will Smith

Infielders (7)
Matt Beaty
Gavin Lux
Zach McKinstry
Max Muncy
Edwin Ríos
Corey Seager
Justin Turner

Outfielders (4)
Cody Bellinger
Mookie Betts
AJ Pollock
Chris Taylor

Pitchers (13)
Trevor Bauer
Walker Buehler
Tony Gonsolin
Victor González
Kenley Jansen
Clayton Kershaw
Corey Knebel
Dustin May
Jimmy Nelson
David Price
Dennis Santana
Blake Treinen
Julio Urías

Brusdar Graterol and Joe Kelly will probably start the season in extended spring training or the IL, opening up spots for Nelson and Santana. If past seasons are any indications, expect to see a host of pitchers come and go from the minors to the Dodgers and back again throughout the season.

Memories of Fernando Valenzuela

Something that will make many of us feel old: This season is the 40th anniversary of the start of Fernandomania. In tribute to him, I’d like for you to share your favorite memories of Valenzuela. Did he make you become a Dodger fan? Share your thoughts and stories about him by emailing me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. Please put “Fernando memory” in the subject line. A selection of them will run in a future newsletter and possibly in our print edition, where we will also pay tribute to him.

Your first Dodgers memory

Since I still have a lot of these, “Your first Dodgers memory” returns this season. If you haven’t already, I’d still love for you to send me your first Dodgers memory, and it might run in an upcoming Dodgers Dugout. Include your name and where you live. And don’t send only a sentence. Tell why that memory sticks out in your mind. You can email me your memory at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. Thanks.

Gary Miller: I grew up less than two miles from Ebbets Field and by the time I was 6, I had been to five games. The Dodgers lost them all.

I was 7 when the Dodgers left Brooklyn. All the grown ups hated them but I told my mother I would still root for them since Sandy Koufax was from Brooklyn. In 1962, the Dodgers returned to New York for the first time since leaving to play the Mets in a Memorial Day doubleheader at the Polo Grounds and I went with my father. So did more than 55,000 other fans.

That day I saw: Koufax go all the way despite giving up six runs and 13 hits including a home run to former Dodger Gil Hodges. Maury Wills hit two homers as did Willie Davis and Ron Fairly. Frank Howard homered, too.

Willie’s second blast won the nightcap in the ninth inning despite two more Hodges homers off Johnny Podres. In his previous at bat he had lined into a triple play.

Pretty good baseball day for a 12-year-old Dodger fan.

Elliot Brown: Since I’m 73 and born in Brooklyn, I can tell you that my first Dodger memory was of my father taking me to Ebbets Field to watch what, much later in life, I realized was one of the best Dodger teams ever.

I do remember him telling me that we were going to be staying for the entire game, but that I didn’t understand what he meant.

What stood out to me were all of the fans screaming at just about anything the Dodgers did. I didn’t understand what was going on and why it made all these people yell, but they all seemed to be happy.

My father, pausing his own yelling as much as he could, tried to explain things to me, but it went over my head.

What I know was that I was watching Roy Campanella catching, Gil Hodges (who should be in the Hall of Fame) at first, Jim Gilliam at second, Pee Wee Reese at shortstop, Billy Cox at third, Carl Furillo in right, Sandy Amoros in left and The Duke, Duke Snider in center. If memory serves, the great Don Newcombe was pitching.

Again, it didn’t mean much to me way back then, but as the years have gone, now being a baseball lifer and bleeding Dodger Blue, man, what an incredible team that was!

And finally

Gil Hodges vs. Ernie Banks on “Home Run Derby.” Watch it here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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