‘This is my new journey’: Kenley Jansen set to make Braves bullpen much stronger

Closer Kenley Jansen has had many battles against the Braves. Now he is glad to be part of Atlanta's bullpen. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Closer Kenley Jansen has had many battles against the Braves. Now he is glad to be part of Atlanta's bullpen. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

NORTH PORT, Fla. — For years, Kenley Jansen sat in the opposing bullpen when the Dodgers and Braves battled. He can still remember the perception his team had about the Braves’ bullpen.

“I’m telling you: From the other side, talk about the Dodgers with heavy hitters, watching whenever the gate opened up, it was devastating to see (A.J.) Minter, (Tyler) Matzek, Luke Jackson, Will Smith,” Jansen said. “All of them, it was just devastating.”

Now Jansen is a part of that group. With him, opponents will fear the Braves’ bullpen much more. He brings, among many other qualities, a nasty cutter and tons of postseason experience.

As the Dodgers’ longtime closer, Jansen knows these Braves well. He game-planned for them and played many heated postseason series against them. He’s faced Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies and many others in that clubhouse.

Perhaps Jansen never saw himself leaving Los Angeles. But as the days passed after the lockout ended, it seems he began to realize he might not be with the Dodgers this season. They had other priorities, including signing Freddie Freeman, and the timing of it all forced Jansen to make a decision on his future. The Braves, he said, came into the race at the end and won out.

“Sometimes, every good thing comes to the end,” Jansen said. “But every good thing starts also. When you start your new journey, it’s going to be fun. And this is my new journey. It’s going to be fun here in a Braves uniform.”

Jansen left one contender and headed for another. The Dodgers, now with Freeman, are stacked once again. They have been the class of MLB for years. But these Braves might not be far behind, especially with the improvements general manager Alex Anthopoulos has made to this roster.

“This team is a champion. I'm just going to be here to bring that support and do everything I can do on my end to help them win ballgames. We want to keep that back of the bullpen consistent."

- new Braves closer Kenley Jansen

Anthopoulos acquired first baseman Matt Olson and extended him. He signed right-handed reliever Collin McHugh and outfielder Eddie Rosario. Then he inked Jansen to a one-year, $16 million deal. The Braves have a strong lineup, a deep bullpen and at least three talented starting pitchers.

They have positioned themselves to try to repeat as World Series champions. Now they have one of the game’s best closers over the last decade-plus on their side. Jansen has a 2.37 ERA over his career. In the postseason, he has a 2.13 ERA over 61 ⅓ innings.

“This team is a champion,” Jansen said. “I’m just going to be here to bring that support and do everything I can do on my end to help them win ballgames. We want to keep that back of the bullpen consistent.”

The Braves and Dodgers will play three games from April 18-20 at Dodger Stadium. The series will feature many storylines, the main ones focusing on Freeman and Jansen switching sides.

The Braves’ hitters are excited they no longer need to face Jansen. The feeling might be mutual. The right-handed reliever is competitive – he said he never likes to admit when hitters are tough – but he praised Atlanta’s lineup.

“They don’t strike out as much,” Jansen said. “Last year in the NLCS, I got a couple strikeouts, but normally they make contact and they put the ball in play, and that’s what makes it tough sometimes, that they don’t strike out as much. They battle.”

Two days before the Braves signed him, Jansen began to think he might not be in a Dodgers uniform this season. He believes they valued him properly, and he publicly thanked their organization for helping him become a man. But multiple times, he expressed excitement about playing for the Braves.

Anthopoulos surprised many when he signed Jansen. The Braves had already bolstered their bullpen by adding McHugh, but a reliever with an elite track record such as Jansen? It came out of nowhere. But it made sense.

The Braves have searched for an impact starting pitcher but have not yet found any particular deals – in free agency or on the trade market – to their liking. They instead made another move to build the best bullpen possible, which should help them in many ways.

“The bullpen was ridiculous even before me coming here,” Jansen said. “I’m here to come here and fit well with them. How can we make each other even better?”

The guys in the bullpen – they call themselves “The Night Shift” – are happy Jansen has joined them. Perhaps the best example: Smith, now the former closer, told Anthopoulos he would be fine moving out of the primary closer role if the team could add Jansen. They all just want to win.

“It’s how can we win ballgames? How can we bring another championship to this organization?” Jansen said. “I’m here to do whatever we can do to win ballgames. At the end of the day, how can we make 27 outs?”

When Jansen signed with the Braves, he texted and then spoke with team icon Andruw Jones. They’re both from Curacao. “Because of him, we’re here today,” Jansen said. “I keep thanking him for that.” The kid who loved Jones and Fred McGriff will now wear the same jersey as them.

In a way, Jansen’s baseball life has come full circle. Years ago, the now-late Giovanni Viceisza, a Braves scout, would bring Jansen to the organization’s complex during spring training.

“Here I am now,” Jansen, wearing a Braves cap and shirt, said.