This post is not a retrospective of Kenley Jansen’s career. It is not a profound look at what will be his 17th and quite possibly final season in the Dodger organization. It is, above all, not an evaluation of his merits as a relief pitcher or “closer.”
I’m writing about nothing more than Kenley Jansen and the start of the 2021 regular season, beginning a week from Thursday on April Fool’s Day.
The first four days of the season will take place in Denver, a location where Jansen has had at least three heart scares relating to episodes of atrial fibrillation. He has since had an ablation procedure and taken other precautions to prevent recurrences, but as Jansen told J.P. Hoornstra of the Daily News in April 2019, “it’s still a little nerve-wracking because it’s in the back of your mind somewhere.”
Then there’s the added complication that Coors Field remains Coors Field, baseball’s very own pinball machine, where the current forecast indicates that the lows for the two night games next weekend will be 39 degrees.
Surprisingly to me, Jansen has pitched well in Denver for most of his career. The Rockies have a .278 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage in 115 plate appearances at Coors against him, and Jansen has allowed only one home run, a meaningless solo shot by none other than Wilin Rosario in a two-run Dodger victory. Since that game in September 2013, Jansen has a 1.58 ERA at Colorado with 22 strikeouts against two walks in 17 innings.
In 13 career opportunities at Coors Field — more than any other Rockies opponent except for Trevor Hoffman — Jansen has never blown a save. No other visiting pitcher with more than seven saves at Coors can claim the same.
Still, all that will be ancient history when Jansen inevitably takes the mound to protect a Dodger lead sometime in the opening four games.
Facing a Rockies team that has seen better days, Jansen will be 1) expected to succeed, because he’s supposed to be better than his opponents, and 2) expected to fail, because he is Not the Kenley Jansen of Old™. On a 2021 Dodger team that is absolutely loaded everywhere, including the bullpen, no one breeds more widespread cynicism today than the valiant, defiant 265-pound Curaçaoan.
If Cody Bellinger, on his way back from shoulder surgery, goes 0 for 20 in those first four games, few will extrapolate doom. If Clayton Kershaw, in his own battles with Old Man Time, gets hammered in Coors, most people will flip the page and wait to see what he does in his next start in Oakland.
But something tells me that if Jansen blows a save before the Dodgers escape the Mile High City (or even in the 43-Foot High City), not too many diehard Dodger fans will be so forgiving. No one in this organization is going to be on a shorter popular leash than Jansen.
What of it? If Jansen doesn’t blow any saves in Colorado, he’s bound to blow them somewhere else. Perhaps beginning the season in Denver will do nothing more than accelerate an inevtiable process for 2021. As I said in my opening, I’m not here to argue Jansen’s merits.
My post is really one about tone — about the tone of how the season unfolds. One shouldn’t be greedy while still celebrating a World Series title, but as I prepare to greet the coming campaign, I just find myself with these modest wishes.
That the fates or the fans can extend a little kindness to Jansen.
That he can bask in the joy of the championship a little bit longer.
That above all else, when the Dodgers have their home opener on April 9 and commemorate their triumph in Los Angeles for the very first time, Jansen is greeted with the loud cheers he deserves for all his service to this franchise, not with boos should he suffer the simple sin of his best days being behind him.
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