Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

Trying to turn around Jansen

Dodgers are still searching for ways to reverse decline in veteran closer

- By Bill Plunkett bplunkett@scng.com @billplunke­ttocr on Twitter

SURPRISE, ARIZ. » No one yet has found a way to turn back the hands of time.

The Dodgers’ 33-yearold closer Kenley Jansen has certainly tried the past few years. The velocity and movement on Jansen’s essential cut fastball has been on a slow decline each of the past four years — from a 93.6 mph average in 2016 to 93.3 in 2017 to 92.3 mph in 2018 to 92.0 mph in 2019 to a bounceback 92.4 mph in 2020.

Jansen made the pilgrimage to Driveline Baseball two winters ago in search of answers.

He adopted weighted-ball and plyometric programs aimed at increasing arm strength and restoring some of the life to his fastball. And he has tried to develop other pitches, incorporat­ing a two-seam (sinking) fastball alongside his cutter and increasing the use of his slider.

The results have been mixed. Jansen had a good regular season in 2020 by some important measures — his average exit velocity (82.7 mph) and hard-hit rate (14%) were both among the lowest in the majors.

And yet, the Dodgers lost faith in him in October and it was starter Julio Urias who was called upon to close out the clinching victories in both the NL Championsh­ip Series and World Series.

As he enters the final year of his contract with the Dodgers — and likely the final year as closer in Los Angeles for the franchise’s all-time saves leader — the search continues.

“It’s been something that we’ve been trying to dive into probably for the better part of a year and a half, two years,” Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior said early this spring. “Sometimes the wide range in velocity — sometimes it comes out and he’s 89, 90 (mph) and other times it comes out and he’s 94, 95 (mph). And really we’ve tried our best to try to figure that out. We’ve made some adjustment­s in his offseason training and hopefully, maybe that would have some impact on it this year.

“It’s something we’re aware of. It’s something that we’ve been trying to unlock. I’ll be honest, we haven’t had success with it in the last year and a half so we’ve changed course and we’ve tried some things differentl­y this offseason. We’ll see how it plays out. He’s been moving great. He’s been looking a lot more athletic with his throw. We’re hoping that continues and plays and shows some dividends, once we get into games.”

Jansen made his second appearance of the spring Sunday against the Texas Rangers — delayed when his mechanics got “just a little bit out of sync” during a live batting practice session and he hit outfielder Zach Reks with a pitch on Friday.

He struck out two and got a weak ground ball in his first outing. Against the Rangers, he gave up a single but retired the side in order. His velocity, however, stayed in the 88-90 mph range.

“I think that right now it starts with the body,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of evaluating Jansen earlier this spring. “I think his body is in a good spot. It’s firing the right way. Then you get into the delivery and I think the delivery, he’s repeating it, which speaks to consistenc­y of the throw and command. Then now you talk about the characteri­stics and all that stuff kind of follows all the other stuff.”

The Dodgers are putting their hopes this spring in a workout program tailored by strength and conditioni­ng coach Brandon McDaniel to be “a little bit more athletic, maybe less bulk, less — how do I say it — mass strength ... allowing his body to move a little bit freer,” according to Prior.

“Kenley knows where he’s at. He knows what he needs to do,” Prior said. “He’s our closer. And you know, he’s been around for a long time and so he knows what he needs to do to help his team win ballgames and that’s his focus.”

Also

Cody Bellinger played three innings on defense in an intra-squad game at Camelback Ranch on Sunday. He did not take any atbats. Bellinger (who had right shoulder surgery in November) is on track to play in games “around the middle of the month,” Roberts said. Earlier in camp, Bellinger said March 13 was his target date for joining Cactus League games.

 ??  ?? Jansen
Jansen
 ?? TONY GUTIERREZ — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Kenley Jansen is entering the final season of his contract with the Dodgers — and likely the franchise all-time saves leader’s final season as closer in Los Angeles.
TONY GUTIERREZ — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Kenley Jansen is entering the final season of his contract with the Dodgers — and likely the franchise all-time saves leader’s final season as closer in Los Angeles.

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