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Kenley Jansen reaches 100 strikeouts, keeps getting better

The Dodgers closer has converted 17 straight saves, and on Sunday reached a strikeout milestone achieved only 11 times in Dodgers history.

Stephen Dunn

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers' win on Sunday ended as so many have ended recently, with Kenley Jansen on the mound closing out the win. He retired three straight batters on Sunday, including two by strikeout, and reached 100 strikeouts on the season, most by a major league reliever.

Jansen is just the ninth Dodgers relief pitcher to reach triple digits in strikeouts in a season, and the first since Jonathan Broxton in 2009.

"That is really awesome, 100 strikeouts is a special thing. I have a God-given ability to get guys to swing and miss," Jansen said after Sunday's game. "It's all due to being aggressive, staying humble, keep attacking and not worrying about things like that."

Jansen came close in each of the last two seasons to reaching the century mark, finishing 2011 with 96 strikeouts and 2012 with 99. But what sets Jansen apart now is his suddenly impeccable control. He has just 12 walks, 11 unintentional, in his 67⅔ innings.

In 2011, Jansen's first full season with the Dodgers, he walked 11.9% of his batters faced. In 2012, he improved that to 8.7%. This year, Jansen has limited his walks to a miniscule 4.7%.

"He's more aggressive and attacking the strike zone. That's for me the biggest thing. I think Kenley likes what he's doing and wants to be that guy. We're seeing a guy that's more confident, who knows he can do what he's doing," Mattingly said. "I guess if you keep throwing and they keep swinging and missing, you start getting more and more confident."

Jansen has a right to be confident, as he has opened each of the last two seasons in a setup role despite being the Dodgers' best option for closer, and in each year he has ultimately ended up as closer.

He is already at a career high in games and innings pitched, but Jansen seems to be getting stronger as the season wears on. He already retired 27 straight batters earlier in 2013. He has struck out 10 of his last 13 batters faced.

Since the All-Star break, Jansen has faced 72 batters and allowed just four hits and four walks, for a .111 on-base percentage against. During that span he has 35 strikeouts, nearly half of his total batters faced.

"I feel like definitely the more I pitch, the better I get. With more experience I get to know my body and get to know my mechanics," Jansen said. "Muscle memory is the key thing to help me be consistent now."

Being able to repeat the same motion for his devastating cutter has served Jansen quite well this season, and drawn comparisons between Jansen and the great Mariano Rivera. But while Jansen is flattered to be compared to the greatest closer of all-time, he was more impressed with Rivera off the field.

The two had a chance to meet this season when the Dodgers and Yankees faced off in a pair of series.

"The fact is I'm still getting to know my stuff." -Kenley Jansen

"One thing I learned was how humble he is, and how he treats people. That type of respect he has for everybody, that is great outside of baseball. That's the one thing that makes you feel even better when you see how humble and what a great person he is, and he's the best reliever in the game," Jansen said. "Just to get to know him was pretty awesome."

But just in case batters come to expect the cutter, Jansen has tried to add a new wrinkle with a slider.

"These hitters are great up here in the major leagues and you have to have respect for those guys," Jansen said. "In a difficult inning like that they look for one pitch and sometimes you have to just get them off it, to make that pitch more effective. I'm trying to mix it in a little bit."

What makes Jansen's ascension all the more remarkable is that he simply hasn't been pitching that long. He converted from behind the plate to the mound in July 2010 and made it to the majors one year later.

Jansen's career major league ERA is 2.11, and he has 336 strikeouts in 213⅓ innings. But he's a scary thought for the rest of the league: Jansen, who will turn 26 at the end of September, might get even better

"The confidence is higher. I'm getting used to pitching more now. The more I pitch and the more I throw, the more I learn," Jansen said. "I've only been doing this for four years, it's no excuse but the fact is I'm still getting to know my stuff."

You've been warned, National League batters.