The circumstances did not matter: Kenley Jansen was going to pitch on Tuesday. If there was a save situation, the Dodgers would gamble with him closing it out. If the Dodgers were losing, Jansen would pitch the eighth inning. And if there was a sizable lead, Jansen would enter in a low-pressure environment with an opportunity to correct the glitches that undid him last week at Dodger Stadium.
The third door opened for Jansen in an 8-4 victory over the Rangers. The beleaguered closer inherited a six-run lead. His performance invited more questions and provided few answers. Operating without reliable command, Jansen allowed four of the first five batters he faced to reach base before escaping with a double play. He looked irritated with himself while on the mound and relieved when it was over.
“Listen, I’ll be all right,” Jansen said. “I’ll figure it out. At some point, I’ll figure it out.”
The reliability of Jansen has emerged as a source of concern for the Dodgers (71-61) as they’ve climbed back into the National League West race. The team has won four in a row, building on a weekend sweep of San Diego with a clubbing of Texas on Tuesday. Manny Machado drove in four runs as the offense romped.
Not every night will be this easy. A four-game series with the division-leading Diamondbacks looms this weekend. Manager Dave Roberts can only hope Jansen will have sorted out the myriad issues that have dogged him in August.
“It’s imperative,” Roberts said. “When he’s doing what he’s doing at the back end, it puts everybody in their rightful positions or roles. And we can use him, deploy him when we need to. When he’s right, he’s way more efficient. Right now, he’s searching, he’s frustrated. He’s a huge part of our potential success.”
The worries with Jansen in 2018 have varied from the mechanical to the physical. The velocity on his cut fastball has dimmed. His strikeout rate has dropped and his walk rate has risen. He has become more prone to home runs than ever before. And that was all before his heart condition resurfaced.
Jansen missed 11 days this month while dealing with symptoms related to his irregular heartbeat. After coming off the disabled list, Jansen gave up home runs in three consecutive appearances. Jansen felt handicapped by the medication he was prescribed for his condition. He said the drugs limited his energy, and he indicated that he had stopped taking them with his cardiologist’s permission.
“The first three games, it just felt like I was sleep-walking out there, no adrenaline,” Jansen said. “Today, my adrenaline was all through the roof. I was just so amped up, and felt good. Like I said, the command wasn’t there.”
That was apparent from the outset. Jansen gave up a leadoff single to former Dodger Adrian Beltre on a belt-high cutter. The pitch soared above the strike zone on a walk to third baseman Jurickson Profar. Jansen secured a strikeout on outfielder Joey Gallo, but loaded the bases on a single by catcher Robinson Chirinos.
Jansen excels when his cutter rises as it approaches the hitter, darting away from right-handed batters and into the barrels of left-handed batters. The pitch declined to cooperate against first baseman Ronald Guzman. Guzman cracked a two-run single as Kenta Maeda started to warm up in the bullpen.
Jansen managed to avoid the shame of forcing Roberts to remove him. He shattered the bat of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to start a game-ending, 1-6-3 double play. Afterward, Jansen maintained his confidence but conceded his anger regarding his imprecision on the mound.
“I know myself,” Jansen said. “I will get out of this.”
Before Jansen arrived, the Dodgers cruised through the evening. Walker Buehler made his shortest start of the season, a four-run outing hampered by a lengthy third inning. The offense protected him by piling up runs against Texas’ relatively anonymous collection of pitchers.
Texas started a rookie right-handed pitcher with a 6.40 earned-run average in six starts.
The offense stressed Ariel Jurado, a 22-year-old Panamanian, with a steady drumbeat of walks and singles. Enrique Hernandez started the inning with a walk. Joc Pederson ripped a single to right. Justin Turner loaded the bases by doing the same.
There was one out when Machado came up. Jurado missed outside with a slider and a curveball. A 2-0 fastball might have been called a ball too. Machado still elected to swing. He sent a roller up the middle, with enough steam to evade the infielders and bring home two runs. Brian Dozier added a single to expand the lead to three.
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Machado said. “You can’t win by just hitting homers.”
Texas answered in the bottom of the inning. The Rangers subjected Buehler to a 37-pitch inning, as he failed to put away hitters with two strikes. A single by Guzman was followed by a two-out walk from second baseman Rougned Odor and an RBI single by shortstop Elvis Andrus. Nomar Mazara cut the Dodgers’ lead to one with another single.
The Dodgers picked up Buehler in the fourth. Hernandez and Chris Taylor opened the inning with singles against Texas reliever Eddie Butler. Pederson smashed a single to left field. Choo bungled his scoop of the baseball, which allowed Hernandez to score. Taylor came home on a sacrifice fly by Machado.
Through four innings, the Dodgers had collected eight hits. Their first extra-base hit came in the first at-bat of the fifth. Butler flung a 2-1 cutter down the middle. Dozier bashed the ball over the left-field fence for his fourth homer as a Dodger.
A seventh run scored in the sixth. Turner got credit for a leadoff double on another bloop, this one misplayed by Mazara. Machado hit a 95-mph fastball into center for his fourth RBI of the game. Cody Bellinger delivered his first hit of the night with a triple to lead off the seventh. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Hernandez.
“It was a great job of team offense,” Roberts said.
All was well. Until the ninth.
The outcome was never really in doubt. But the Dodgers know they will require Jansen in save situations in the final weeks of the season. He insisted he will be ready. He wanted another chance as early as Wednesday.