Dodgers’ Roberts to mull Jansen’s role as closer

  • Sports reporter, Kansas City Star, 2002-09
  • Writer, Baseball, Baseball Prospectus
  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus
  • Member, Baseball Writers Association of America
  • Member, Professional Basketball Writers Association

For years, the Los Angeles Dodgers knew if they could just get a lead to the ninth inning, then Kenley Jansen was waiting to jog in from the bullpen to finish things off. After Jansen struggled through yet another appearance Wednesday, the formula for manager Dave Roberts is no longer so simple.

Jansen entered Wednesday’s NLDS Game 2 to get the last three outs against the San Diego Padres, with the Dodgers leading 6-3. Los Angeles managed to hang on for a 6-5 win, but it was Joe Kelly, not Jansen, who earned the save.

Jansen started out by striking out San Diego outfielder Wil Myers with a fastball, but gave up a sharp single to Jake Cronenworth and an RBI double to Mitch Moreland, trimming the Dodgers’ lead to two runs. Austin Nola fouled out, but a Trent Grisham single plated Moreland and brought Roberts out to the mound to pull his long-time closer.

When asked if Jansen would continue to close games going forward, Roberts said, “I’m gonna keep thinking through it. I thought there were some good throws in there.”

“There wasn’t a conversation,” Roberts said. “I chose at that point and time to go to Joe [Kelly]. My love and respect for him certainly hasn’t changed, and he feels terrible. He wants to be the guy and he’s proven it time and time again. But I know he’s thrilled we won a ball game, a big ball game. And that was kind of it.”

Kelly proceeded to walk Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, just missing on several close pitches, before getting Eric Hosmer on a game-ending groundout to second base. With the win, the Dodgers grabbed a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series, with Game 3 set for Thursday.

“Came up in a big situation, and Joe made some great pitches,” Hosmer said. “You’ve got to tip your cap sometimes. Stinks you’ve got to do that.”

Jansen has been the Dodgers’ primary closer since 2012, but has shown signs of decline over the last couple of seasons. In 2019, he saved 33 games but posted a career-worst 3.71 ERA. This season, Jansen started strong, but gave up seven runs in back-to-back outings in September, casting his reliability for the playoffs into doubt, even though he finished the season with six straight scoreless outings.

His performance on Wednesday did not help his case. Or, at the very least, it gave Roberts a lot to think about.

“It was a lot for him — 30 pitches to get two outs,” Robert said. “I know that he’s disappointed as well.”

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