Inside his dugout, as the rest of the Dodgers bullpen prepared to protect a lead in Wednesday’s eighth inning, Kenley Jansen extended his arms in front of his chest and unfurled his tongue. It was a dead-on impression of Yasiel Puig, delivered in a location where Jansen is rarely found. Puig and a few others cackled at the imitation before returning to watching the game.
Jansen had time to tease Puig about a disastrous slide — which involved Puig crashing to earth and swallowing dirt at third base — because he did not pitch in a 3-1 victory over the Rangers. A day after permitting two runs in his fourth consecutive shaky appearance, Jansen was not available on Wednesday.
Scott Alexander handled the eighth inning. The ninth belonged to Kenta Maeda. He did not fare much better than Jansen on Tuesday. Maeda surrendered an RBI double to former Dodger Adrian Beltre and put the tying run on base before escaping with his second career save.
The day off was planned for Jansen, manager Dave Roberts said. The two men had spoken on Tuesday afternoon and decided Jansen would pitch only one game in this series. Jansen will have a day of rest and will be available for any save opportunities when the Dodgers begin a four-game series against Arizona on Thursday at Dodger Stadium.
“Kenley’s going to close,” Roberts said.
It is unclear which version of Jansen will emerge from the bullpen when his name is called next. Will it be the vulnerable figure who stumbled in April and struggled upon his return from the disabled list earlier this month? Or will it be the three-time All-Star with a 1.51 earned-run average from May through July?
Roberts acknowledged that Jansen’s track record cannot trump his recent performance. But the Dodgers will wade into a meaningful weekend with uncertainty about the anchor of their bullpen.
The Dodgers (72-61) were not in a position to complain. The victory on Wednesday was their fifth in a row, with three against San Diego and two against Texas. In the process, the team whittled a 4½-game deficit in the National League West down to one. The players welcomed the chance to face Arizona, which the team has not seen since May.
“We’re at the point in the year where you need to win the games you’re supposed to win,” pitcher Alex Wood said. “It’s really nice for us to string five together like we have, especially when we’re going to play a club that we struggled playing against earlier in the year, in Arizona. I think those five games came at the right time, and we’re pretty excited to go home and see these D-backs again.”
Wood played a primary role in Wednesday’s victory with seven scoreless innings. It was his longest outing since June 27. He permitted four hits and struck out five.
The offense consisted of three solo home runs, one by Cody Bellinger, one by Manny Machado and one by Yasmani Grandal. The team’s only other hit was a triple by Puig, which led to Puig’s daredevil slide into the bag. Puig got himself thrown out trying to steal home moments later.
Bellinger powered the Dodgers into a lead in the third. On the mound for Texas was left-handed pitcher Mike Minor. Bellinger entered the game with only five home runs against left-handers on the season. He added No. 6 on Wednesday.
Minor attacked Bellinger with a first-pitch fastball. Bellinger belted the 94-mph pitch onto the berm beyond center field.
“I think we’re clicking as a whole team right now,” Bellinger said. “Hopefully we can take that into the series tomorrow.”
Machado added a similar strike in the fourth. He punished Minor for another belt-high, first-pitch fastball. It was Machado’s fourth home run in his last seven games.
Wood protected the lead by producing a flurry of groundouts. He had stepped into trouble by permitting a pair of singles in the second inning but escaped when he induced Rangers first baseman Ronald Guzman to hit into a double play. That started a streak of 10 consecutive batters retired for Wood.
Texas put a runner aboard to start the sixth. Rangers outfielder Carlos Tocci hit a grounder in between Machado and shortstop Chris Taylor. Machado let Taylor make the play behind him. Taylor bounced the throw past Bellinger at first base. Tocci took second on the error.
Wood defused the threat. He had some help from his hosts. Texas outfielder Shin-Soo Choo tried to bunt. Choo popped up for one out. Wood struck out second baseman Rougned Odor with a curveball. After shortstop Elvis Andrus walked, Wood retired outfielder Nomar Mazara on a grounder.
“It was a tight game, the whole time,” Wood said. “We played good defense, had a couple big knocks. It was a good night.”
The tension ratcheted up in the ninth. Jansen resided on the top step of the dugout as Maeda entered the game. Little went smoothly for the replacement closer.
Maeda had excelled as a reliever in the past but felt the weight of his new assignment.
“It being the last inning, it was definitely an instance of there being a little anxiety and a little pressure,” Maeda said through his interpreter, Will Ireton. “Having to battle that is a little difficult.”
Texas mounted a rally when Mazara took a one-out walk. Maeda could not command his fastball, and his offspeed pitches sprayed outside the zone. When he left a 92-mph fastball down the middle, Beltre provided the Rangers with their first run of the game. The tying run came aboard when Maeda walked pinch-hitter Joey Gallo on four pitches.
Maeda prevented further damage. Guzman smoked a slider down the first-base line, where Bellinger smothered it for the game’s final out. It was a rocky save, but it was still a save. Jansen will get a chance for similar opportunities Thursday.
“We’re going to play a lot more stressful games this month,” Roberts said. “It’s good for all of us.”