After Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw grinded through the final three innings of the Dodgers’ Game 5 victory Thursday in the National League Division Series, Nationals manager Dusty Baker wondered what the cost might be as the Dodgers moved on.
However, the Cubs were the ones paying Sunday, when Kershaw and Jansen teamed up again in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series.
After Kershaw pitched seven scoreless innings, Jansen preserved the 1-0 victory with a six-out save, his third outing this postseason of more than an inning. That Jansen dispatched the Cubs with two perfect innings and four strikeouts was all the more impressive considering the All-Star closer had thrown a career-high 51 pitches three days earlier.
“It’s one thing to have dominant stuff, which he does,” Kershaw said, “but the willingness and the want-to that he has, the competitiveness that you’re seeing right now (is special).
“Like, he really wants the ball. A lot of people say that, but to actually go out there and do it night in, night out, two-inning saves and coming in in the seventh in Game 5, that’s what makes him special, more so than even the really nasty cutter that he throws.”
Jansen said he did a lot of running and lifting weights to aid in his recovery from the NLDS clincher. Mentally, he said watching Kershaw’s dominant performance motivated him.
“You see Kersh go out there and pitch seven innings and put this team on his back, I want to go out there and finish it up,” Jansen said.
Unconventional bullpen usage has been a hot topic this postseason, as managers such as the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, the Cubs’ Joe Maddon and the Indians’ Terry Francona bend the unwritten rules, especially when it comes to closers.
“It’s more communicating with players to understand and to buy in to accepting whatever situation is presented to them for that particular game,” Roberts said. “That’s something that I tried to communicate with our relief pitchers since day one of spring training. Fortunately, we have such an unselfish group that the buy-in was there, and for us it’s worked out.”
Jansen is willing to jump into varying situations. Five of his 47 regular-season saves covered more than three outs. He has four scoreless postseason appearances – including Thursday’s 2 1/3-inning outing – and one in which he gave up four runs in the ninth to the Nationals.
“I really appreciate it,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said of Jansen’s willingness to work multiple innings. “We look to him to be the back end of the bullpen and be the leader of that bullpen. He’s showing he is that leader. … Every time he has gone out, he has answered the call.”
For Jansen, such outings are a no-brainer in his current situation. In his seventh major-league season with the Dodgers, he is set to hit free agency this offseason, but he said one thing weighs heavier on his mind than a big payday.
“You can make as much money in the game, but at the end of the day, you just want to get a ring,” he said. “Here we are, we have the opportunity right now, so that’s all I’m thinking about – to win a World Series.”