The Colorado Rockies (76-62) took over sole possession of first place in the NL West on Monday after the Dodgers dropped their series opener against the Mets. The Rockies have won four straight games, and the upcoming three-game series in Colorado over the weekend between the Dodgers and Rockies is shaping up to be an important one as the regular season winds down. To complicate matters, the Dodgers may have to battle the Rox without their closer Kenley Jansen, who may not travel with the team to Colorado as a precaution.
Jansen experienced an irregular heartbeat during the last series in Colorado a little less than a month ago, and the Dodgers are currently weighing the risks involved in pitching Jansen in Denver considering his history of heart issues in Colorado. He also had an irregular heartbeat in the Mile High City in 2012, and he later underwent heart ablation surgery in the offseason. Jansen expects to have another ablation procedure at the conclusion of this season.
The three-game series in Colorado starts this Friday, then the Dodgers travel to Cincinnati to take on the Reds for three games, followed by four with the Cardinals in St. Louis. Jansen could rejoin his team in Cincinnati should he skip the Colorado series.
Dave Roberts explained that Kenley’s health is the most important factor when considering his status for the series in Colorado.
”The No. 1 priority that we’re all aligned on is that Kenley’s health is first and foremost the priority. If there’s any hesitation on his part or the doctors say the altitude can affect him in any way, then for us, it’s a no-brainer to have him stay back. So we haven’t made a decision yet. We’ll have those conversations and make that decision in the next couple of days.”
Although Jansen is one of the most irreplaceable players on the team, and his absence was significantly felt when he was unable to pitch for nearly two weeks after the incident, the Dodgers have some September reinforcements to soften the blow a bit.
The acquisition of Ryan Madson at the non-waiver trade deadline gives Roberts a late-inning option in Jansen’s absence. Madson has made two relief appearances for the Dodgers so far, and hasn’t allowed a run while striking out two batters and walking one in 1.1 innings. Ross Stripling is also slated to return for the series against the Rockies on Friday, providing some bullpen depth as well.
Obviously the Dodgers want a healthy Jansen for the remainder of the regular season and for a potential postseason run. After returning from the DL, he struggled mightily and later attributed the rough stretch where he allowed four home runs to the medication he was on which made him feel like he was ‘sleepwalking.’ Once his cardiologist okayed him to discontinue use of the medicine, he looked a lot more like the dominant Kenley we all know and love.
Jansen’s season numbers have been nowhere near his career-high marks from last season. His 15.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio has dipped to 4.60, the lowest of his career since 2012. He’s allowed a career-high 10 home runs (1.5 HR/9), and his command has been off (2.2 BB/9). His 2.93 ERA and 3.75 FIP are the highest they’ve been in his nine seasons with the Dodgers. He’s seven innings away from his total workload from last year (68.1), so perhaps a weekend off would give him some extra rest as the Dodgers head into their final weeks of the regular season.
Jansen’s season has been difficult, and it started off poorly after he suffered a hamstring injury in March and then reduced his usual spring training routine to compensate. After the slow start, Jansen was finally getting into a groove when his heart issues resurfaced. To add to the complexity of the situation for Jansen, his wife Gianni gave birth to his second son last month while all this was going on.
Jansen said he was calm during the incident that led to him being rushed to a Denver hospital via ambulance last month, but the incident sounded scary.
“They shocked my heart right back to normal,” he said.
You have to respect the veteran’s relentless attitude. He’s said he feels responsible for the Dodgers’ bullpen tribulations this year. The bullpen has blown 26 saves this season, third most in the majors. Jansen has blown four saves this year.
“I’m not thinking about my heart; I’m not,” Jansen said, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. “You have no control over your heart, so if it goes, it goes. That’s how I think.”
Jansen doesn’t want to show weakness, because for most of his career he’s been the anchor of the Dodgers’ bullpen and a leader on the team. I’m not a doctor, but someone has to step in and protect the big guy who not only has important responsibilities as the closer of a major-league baseball team, but also is a husband and a father of three young children.
A World Series championship is the ultimate goal for the Dodgers, a 30-year quest that has seen them win their division for five straight years and get to precipice of the Fall Classic last season. Kenley’s long-term health as a player and a person is more important than a sporting title. It’s a close three-way divisional race that may come down to the final series of the year, and the Colorado series may be a pivotal one, but risking Jansen’s life is not worth the reward.
Editor’s Note: Jansen later tweeted regarding his decision not to travel to Denver.
‘@Dodgers fans, as u heard, I won’t be making the trip to COL. Dr.’s orders. I want to help my team at any cost, but must listen to Dr. To be honest w/you issues are scary. Doing great though. I’ll join team after COL, continue pushing toward postseason. #KeepKenleysHeartHealthy— Kenley Jansen (@kenleyjansen74) September 5, 2018