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Kenley Jansen’s night: An immaculate inning, a hit & nearing a strikeout record

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MLB: Miami Marlins at Los Angeles Dodgers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen had himself quite a night in Thursday’s win over the Marlins at Dodger Stadium.

Jansen struck out all four batters he faced on Thursday, recording his eighth save of the season. He needed only 14 pitches to do so, including the minimum nine in the ninth inning, the first immaculate inning of his career.

And the first he had heard of such a thing.

“I’ve been pitching for seven or eight years, and I had no idea what that was,” Jansen said. “That was awesome. It’s a blessing.”

It was the 79th immaculate inning in major league history, and the first by a Dodger in 22 years.

“Nine pitches, three punch outs. Very focused,” manager Dave Roberts said. “That was special.”

It was the fourth four-out save of the season already for Jansen, who had five saves longer than one inning in the 2016 regular season, then had a sublime postseason that saw him log five different multi-inning outings.

“Every time I go out there, I’m focused,” Jansen said. “I’m not going to lie, that playoff last year helped me more. I’m feeding off that.”

Because Jansen entered in the eighth inning in a save situation, the Dodgers’ rally in the bottom of the inning didn’t take him out of the save situation. It also allowed Jansen to bat for just the sixth time in his career. Roberts could have double-switched when he brought Jansen into the game to avoid such a situation, but with Justin Turner already out of the game with a hamstring injury, Roberts said it made no sense to further weaken the defense.

Jansen singled, and now owns a .500 career on-base percentage (two hits, one walk).

“I don’t know if that was his first major league hit, but we saved the baseball,” Roberts said. Then, when told it was Jansen’s second hit, Roberts said with a smile, “We’re still saving the baseball.”

Most K w/o BB to start season

Pitcher Team Year Strikeouts
Pitcher Team Year Strikeouts
Adam Wainwright StL 2013 35
Kenley Jansen LA 2017 32*
Noah Syndergaard NYM 2017 31
Dennis Eckersley Oak 1990 30
Billy Wagner Phi 2004 30
Sean Doolittle Oak 2014 30
John Smoltz Atl 2004 28
*through May 18, 2017 Sources: Elias Sports & Baseball-Reference

“It was fun today. It was fun out there,” Jansen said. “I got to go out there and swing the bat. Definitely I loved that hit, but it’s always fun to go out there and win games.”

Jansen has been especially good at helping the Dodgers win games this season. He has faced 60 batters and struck out 32 of them, and hasn’t walked a single batter.

The only pitcher in the modern era to begin a season with more strikeouts before their first walk than Jansen was Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals, who started his 2013 campaign with 35 strikeouts before his first free pass.

Jansen’s walk rate has been minuscule anyway the last two years, at 4.2% in 2015-2016 combined. But how is he able to keep it at zero, for now?

“I’m just attacking, it’s all I do. I’m attacking hitters all the time. I’m not thinking about walking hitters,” Jansen said. “I’m not afraid to throw behind in the count, which might be helping me more.

Jansen has had plate appearances against him end with the batter ahead in the count just nine times out of 60. He has gone to three balls on only six out of 60 batters faced.

That will get it done.