Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen tunes out the noise, tunes up his delivery

ARLINGTON, Texas — The exit velocity has been remarkable.

After all, Kenley Jansen is the Dodgers’ all-time saves leader – regular season (317) or postseason (17). He is a three-time All-Star and the only closer to win the Trevor Hoffman Award as the National League’s best reliever in back-to-back seasons.

But as his velocity dipped in recent seasons and the ninth innings featured more drama than everyone had become accustomed to, the support for Jansen disappeared with startling speed. Even Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ faith has wavered. After a rough finish to Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres, Roberts made it clear the ninth inning was no longer Jansen’s alone. He next sent his deposed closer to the mound in the sixth inning of a blowout.

But Jansen said none of that wounded his pride or shook his confidence.

“It’s simple – noise,” Jansen said, assessing all the chatter in the media and online about his place in the Dodgers’ bullpen hierarchy. “You can’t worry about noise at this time. That’s all a distraction. The conversation that we have here, it’s not that. It’s about how we can win ballgames.

“So if you simplify the game and just don’t worry about noise it’s going to be much easier for you to find your stuff out there and find yourself. And that’s what I did. Everything – media, whatever criticizing – all those are noise. We are here to win a championship and we’ve come so far and we have a chance again. … I understand what you guys do. I love it. I miss seeing you guys here. But at the same time, I can’t have that right now. Nobody needs that in this clubhouse.”

Jansen said his struggles were the result of mechanics that were “not synced up.” He trusted in two people who know him well – former pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and Charlie Hough. Hough was a pitching coach in the Dodgers’ minor-league system when Jansen was converted from catcher at the Class-A level. Jansen credits Hough with making him a pitcher.

“I went back to the basics with Charlie Hough, having a good few phone calls with him and Rick Honeycutt,” Jansen said. “They showed me pictures of the past, and how everything was working together and it wasn’t quite the same and can I get back to that, to making my delivery simple.

“They were both texting me. I reached out to them too. We had a good conversation and it helped.”

Indeed, it did. With his tempo better and his arm synced up with his legs, Jansen threw 12 pitches in the ninth inning of Game 5, protecting a four-run lead for a 7-3 victory. Ten of them were strikes. The fastballs averaged 93.48 mph. The last one registered 94.2 mph as he struck out the side.

“Definitely excitement. Definitely relief,” Jansen said of his feelings.

Roberts called it one of the highlights of the Dodgers’ Game 6 victory. Jansen’s teammates shared his emotions.

“I’ve been playing behind Kenley for six years now. He’s been one of the best closers in the game for a while now,” Kiké Hernandez said before Game 6. “There’s some narratives going around about Kenley and all this. But we haven’t lost faith in Kenley. We haven’t lost confidence in Kenley. We know who he is. We know what type of closer he is.

“He pitched like he had a chip on his shoulder and that’s a good thing. That’s the Kenley we need.”

CHRIS TAYLOR STATUS

Dodgers utilityman Chris Taylor left Game 5 in the eighth inning after injuring his right ankle on a play in left field. Roberts said the injury was not severe enough to have Taylor undergo an MRI or X-rays and Taylor was feeling “much better” before Game 6.

“From the training staff to Chris, it’s better than he expected,” Roberts said. “He’s just going to kind of keep treating it up, move around.”

Roberts said Taylor would be available to play in Game 6 “if the situation calls for it at some point in time.”

With Taylor out of the starting lineup, Hernandez was penciled in at second base against Braves left-hander Max Fried as he was in Game 1.

GAME SEVEN

Facing elimination Saturday, Roberts said Game 2 starter Tony Gonsolin would be available to pitch in Game 6 “but it’s more expecting him to pitch (Sunday)” if the Dodgers force a Game 7.

The prospect of taking the mound for a Game 7 didn’t stir any anxiety in Gonsolin.

“I think it’s the same situation as Game 2, Game 3, Game 4, Game 1,” he said. “It’s all the same to me. I’ve just got to go out there and throw my game.”