Kenley Jansen did not make his name as an All-Star closer with a 100-mph fastball. He did it not with straight heat but with a cut fastball, a pitch that darts away from the batter rather than overwhelms him. In his heyday, he averaged 94 mph on the pitch.
And, hey, that made Friday's 7-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series special for Jansen and the Dodgers. It was just like old times: Jansen closing out a postseason victory by striking out the side, with his final pitch at 94 mph.
“That was one of the highlights for all of us,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “to see the way he commanded the baseball, he attacked and closed the game out. That was really good to see.”
Roberts has handled Jansen delicately this postseason. In Jansen’s first postseason appearance, his velocity dipped as low as 86 mph, his delivery out of order. Roberts has used Jansen for parts of an inning, and he has used Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen in spots that called for a closer, but the manager has taken care to avoid saying Jansen is no longer the closer.
The Dodgers might still prefer matchups and options, but Jansen’s performance Friday might have given them more confidence that he still can be an option in a save situation.
“This game, I wanted him to close out,” Roberts said.
The Dodgers led by four runs with three outs to go. The lead was beyond the definition of a save situation, but the Dodgers already had used Graterol and Treinen. The Braves’ best hitters had batted in the previous inning, so Jansen would face the fifth, sixth and seventh batters in the lineup.
Dansby Swanson struck out on four pitches. Austin Riley struck out on three pitches. Johan Camargo struck out on five pitches.
Jansen is one of the most popular players in the Dodgers clubhouse. To the delight of his teammates, he appeared to have his swagger back.
“Kenley looked great,” shortstop Corey Seager said. “It looked like he had some confidence tonight. Throughout the year, he was kind of tinkering with stuff and couldn't really find what he was looking for. And tonight, he looked like he was out there throwing like we've always seen him do. He just pounded the zone.
“He wasn't scared. He attacked guys. He was really good tonight. That was very comforting to see for him. That's got to be a huge relief for him.”
Jansen threw 12 pitches, 10 strikes. His fastball had registered no faster than 91 mph in a sixth-inning stint on Wednesday, but he threw nine pitches from 91-94 mph Friday.
Jansen’s fastball averaged 91 mph this season. According to Statcast, Jansen had thrown as hard as 94 mph only 14 times in 511 previous pitches this year. And, with refinements in his delivery, he located the cut fastball where it tends to be most effective, at the top of the strike zone.
The Dodgers love Graterol, but he does not strike out as many batters as Jansen. If the Dodgers need a late-game strikeout, they might again call on their longtime closer.
“Treinen and Kenley are the guys who miss bats,” Roberts said. “To see what he did tonight was a big thing for the Dodgers.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.