It’s been a rough time since the All-Star break for Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who had blown saves in his first three tries, the latter two coming with loud boos from the Dodger Stadium crowd as he was removed from the game.
It marked the first time in Dodgers history the team blew three straight games in which they had the lead in the ninth inning, per ESPN Stats and Info. But manager Dave Roberts stood by his closer.
“Four days ago he was one of the top two or three closers in baseball. It’s interesting how things change over two games, albeit two games in a row,” Roberts said Friday, mentioning the two games against the Giants but leaving out the first of three blown saves in a row, last Sunday against the Rockies. “He and other guys in our pen have picked up a lot of guys this year. I just don’t think two games causes for me to question a role.”
On the season, Jansen has a 2.97 ERA and 3.67 FIP even with the recent blowups, perfectly reasonable though not spectacular results. The command has been worrisome, with a 16.3-percent walk rate more than double his career mark (7.3 percent), including five walks in his last three games.
The Dodgers need Jansen to pitch well in whatever role he’s in. They prefer him closing games, keeping Blake Treinen available to be dispatched in high-leverage spots in the seventh or eighth innings as needed. Both Jansen and Treinen are needed for stability more than anything else, especially in a bullpen that has used 17 different relievers in July and has thrown nearly as many innings as starting pitchers this month.
The third of those consecutive blown saves by Jansen — Thursday against the Giants — featured two potential game-ending plays that could have been, but I’m more interested in his usage.
Kenley Jansen usage
Jansen threw a season-high 27 pitches in Wednesday night’s debacle, in which he retired only one of six batters faced. After the first 10 times Jansen threw at least 20 pitches this year, he got at least two days rest eight times, and one day of rest once. He pitched once in a back-to-back setting, coming back after throwing 20 pitches on June 13 with a nine-pitch outing on June 14, saving both games.
The Dodgers have done their best at managing the entire bullpen, giving ample rest after extended outings, or back-to-back games whenever possible. One hundred and four times a Dodgers reliever (counting the first pitchers of bullpen games when applicable here) has thrown 20 pitches in a game this season. Seventy-eight times the pitcher got at least two days rest afterward. That pitcher threw with one day rest 14 times, and on the next day 12 times.
It’s impossible to avoid back-to-back situations all season long, but even with that the use of Jansen on Thursday was puzzling, especially so since he was allowed to stay in long enough to throw 33 pitches. Jansen this year in nine games with no days rest has a 7.27 ERA with as many walks (10) as strikeouts (10). In his other 30 games, Jansen’s ERA is 1.76 with 35 strikeouts and 17 walks.
It was the first time Jansen threw at least 20 pitches on back-to-back days since September 21-22, 2014, and the first time he pitched the next day after throwing at least 27 pitches since Game 5 of the 2018 NLCS, when he got the final out one day after pitching two innings.
Some form of redemption came in the form of Saturday’s save, preserving a 1-0 win on the 11th anniversary of his major league debut.
Jansen on Saturday had just one day rest off a 33-pitch outing and 60 pitches over those previous two outings. It’s just the third time Jansen has been used three times in four days this season.
“We need Kenley. He’s been good for us,” said catcher Austin Barnes. “There’s bumps in the road sometimes, but he responds.”
We’ve seen Roberts turn to pitchers other than Jansen in each of the last two postseasons, so it’s not like his faith in his closer is blind. Five different Dodgers closed games last October, and five non-Jansen pitchers have recorded eight total saves this regular season.
Having Jansen remain the closer is fine. Just put him in spots he’s most likely to succeed, which is with more rest whenever possible.