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MLB -- Kenley Jansen looks like his old self in closing out Diamondbacks

ESPN.com | Updated: 2018-09-01 16:15:12

LOS ANGELES -- It was the final inning of the final night before September, against the division-leading rivals, with the tying run on second base, one of the game's hottest hitters at the plate and a two-game swing in the standings hanging in the balance.

But this time Kenley Jansen reached back and found some of what had eluded him in his recent appearances. His cutter zipped in at 94 mph, progressively riding up the strike zone and past the swinging bat of Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder David Peralta.

Jansen, the Los Angeles Dodgers' reeling closer, snared the baseball that was returned to him by catcher Yasmani Grandal, retreated to the mound and cussed at himself, loud enough to pierce through a screaming crowd of 48,965.

Later, Jansen said, "I felt like pissed-off Kenley today."

And that's exactly what the Dodgers need.

Jansen picked up his first save in 24 days on Friday night, pitching around a fortuitous double by Paul Goldschmidt to seal a 3-2 victory that pushed the Dodgers to within a game of the Diamondbacks in the National League West.

Jansen had given up seven runs and 10 hits -- four of them homers -- in four innings since returning from a 11-day absence that was caused by an irregular heartbeat. But on this night, Jansen felt "so much better."

The improvement stemmed from a bullpen session at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, on Wednesday afternoon.

Jansen and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt had pored through video of Jansen's past two seasons, when he solidified himself among the game's best closers. They found his lower body driving toward home plate and slightly to the third-base side, then noticed him tailing toward first base in recent weeks. It was affecting the location, crispness and life of his trademark cutter, and the results were proving it.

When he retreated to the clubhouse that day, Jansen told some of his teammates he had figured something out.

"It's just me throwing with my lower body, and that's all I did -- focus on my lower body and let my lower body just carry me to home plate," Jansen said. "I feel so much better."

Jansen carried a 5.40 ERA through his first 12 appearances of 2018, a byproduct, mostly, of still being in spring training mode when the season began. He quickly got right again, putting up a 1.27 ERA in a 42&#8532-inning span from May 3 to Aug. 7.

But when a heart issue sidelined Jansen, the Dodgers' bullpen vulnerabilities manifested themselves. Six relievers were charged with losses in an eight-day stretch that saw the Dodgers drop two games in the standings.

Jansen's return was supposed to make everything right again. But he gave up back-to-back home runs to the first two St. Louis Cardinals batters he faced on Aug. 20, then suffered another loss by allowing a two-run homer two nights later. He entered a save situation against the lowly San Diego Padres last Saturday and blew it. He took the mound with a six-run lead against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, an attempt to build some confidence, and almost blew that game too.

Prior to that outing, Jansen told a reporter from Southern California News Group that he had stopped taking his heart medication because it made him too lethargic for the ninth inning.

The next day, he went to the bullpen and seemingly corrected what ailed his cutter.

"It looked pretty electric tonight," said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, who hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts could sense it too.

"The swings kind of tell me," he said. "You can look at the radar gun, but the swings, the bad swings, you can tell that there's a cut and a late life in the strike zone."

Jansen began the top of the ninth by getting A.J. Pollock to line out to center field. The next batter, Goldschmidt, reached out and poked a blooper into shallow right field off the end of his bat, reaching second base just ahead of the throw from Yasiel Puig. The cheap hit angered Jansen, a defiance he carried into a critical confrontation with Peralta, who entered with a .376 batting average this month.

Peralta went down on four pitches.

"That was big," Jansen said. "He's their hottest hitter, and to just put him away, that definitely made me go to the next level."

When Jansen's next pitch resulted in a routine groundout, the Dodgers captured only their fifth win in 14 tries against the D-backs this season, a series that has seen 11 games be decided by three runs or fewer.

"We're in August still," Roberts said, "but this was as close to a postseason environment as you can get."

The Dodgers have added three potent bats this summer -- Manny Machado, Brian Dozier and, most recently, David Freese -- but their bullpen remains a major question. There is no clear setup option for Jansen, so the Dodgers are hoping to figure it out with a mix of transitioning starting pitchers (Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling), promising lefties (Scott Alexander and Caleb Ferguson) and seasoned right-handers (Josh Fields, Dylan Floro and, now, Ryan Madson).

But even if they can get by there, they need Jansen to be right.

There's hope for that now.

"All I can say is, look, in about two hours, it's Sept. 1," Jansen said. "Everything that happened in the past, and this whole season, you can't worry about that. You just have to stay focused from now on for this next month, September. And probably the next two months if we work our way to the playoffs. That's all I'm focusing on. That's the confidence that I have."

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