What the Braves are getting with new closer Kenley Jansen

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen gestures after striking out Colorado Rockies' C.J. Cron to end the baseball game Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Los Angeles. The Dodgers won 1-0. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Credit: AP

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Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen gestures after striking out Colorado Rockies' C.J. Cron to end the baseball game Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Los Angeles. The Dodgers won 1-0. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Credit: AP

PHOENIX — Kenley Jansen stared at the ground as he left the Truist Park mound following Game 2 of the 2021 National League Championship Series. He wouldn’t have imagined that months later he would join the team that just walked him off.

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Game 2 was one of the more memorable games in Braves history. After surrendering four runs in the eighth against the Dodgers, the deck was reset for the bottom of the ninth. With a runner at second and two outs, the Dodgers summoned Jansen from the bullpen hoping to send the game to extra innings at 4-4.

Jansen threw one pitch that Eddie Rosario rocketed toward shortstop Corey Seager. It bounced off Seager’s glove and rolled into the outfield, producing the Braves’ second walk-off in as many nights. After going up 2-0, the Braves bounced the defending champion Dodgers in six games en route to their own World Series title.

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Credit: ArLuther Lee

Credit: ArLuther Lee

Now Jansen is part of the Braves’ clubhouse, teaming with Rosario and company to help their repeat bid – a quest which could very well require upending Jansen’s former club in October.

In a move nobody saw coming, the Braves signed Jansen, 34, to a one-year, $16 million deal March 18. Jansen, a 12-year Dodgers veteran, had a 2.22 ERA with 38 saves over 69 games last season (69 innings). His addition further strengthened the Braves’ case as the majors’ best bullpen.

ExploreReaction to Kenley Jansen signing

“He’s been one of the game’s best closers for a long time now,” Braves starter Max Fried said. “Any situation, any circumstance, he’s been in it, and he knows how to come out of it. So to have just another guy in the back of that bullpen that’s going to be able to shoulder whatever load is thrown on them, it’s going to be really awesome. Can’t have too many weapons.”

Starter Ian Anderson added: “Super excited. He’s a great guy. I feel like we have the idea of who the Dodgers are because we’ve been so competitive with them. … He’s going to be huge for the team. Seems like he’s super happy to be here, so we’re excited to have him.”

The Braves already are seeing value in loading up with relievers. Luke Jackson, coming off a career-best campaign, has a damaged UCL. He’ll miss significant time and possibly the entire season. While it’s a loss, the Braves’ bullpen is equipped to handle injury.

Jansen and Collin McHugh were major veteran additions. Former All-Star Kirby Yates also could be back later this summer. Jansen filling the ninth also pushes other pitchers down in the order (former closer Will Smith could pitch the eighth inning, for instance). The team aggressively upgrading its bullpen softens the blow of losing Jackson.

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“It just shows this organization’s commitment to winning,” new Braves first baseman Matt Olson said. “(Jansen is) an incredible arm in the back end, and it was already a pretty incredible bullpen. So for them to go out and make that happen, we just keep adding on to this roster. It says a lot, and that’s a horse back there.”

Despite being a newcomer, Jansen should emerge as a leader in “The Night Shift.” Let Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen explain what to expect from Jansen.

“He’s a guy who has leadership qualities of his own,” Treinen told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Some people are vocal all the time, and people are super drawn to them. I think what people are drawn to by (Jansen) was the fact that he’s done it for so long. So even if he’s not doing an orthodox routine like a lot of other guys, he’s still getting his work in to compete and he’s posted (good numbers) for years.

“So his leadership qualities, his durability, and he does find a way to speak up when he has to. That was really cool to see. I’m not a vocal guy, I’d rather just lead by example. But he’s got really good qualities with calling things the way they are when we need to hear them. When it’s uncomfortable to say things, he’ll say something. That takes a special player.

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“He is a phenomenal competitor, and he’s passionate about his craft. Getting to play with him over the last few years has been really great. It’s kind of weird not having him here. But he’s got to do what’s right for him and his family. I’m very happy for him, especially being on a team that’s going to win.”

In recent years, Jansen was lauded and criticized. He established an elite standard on a perpetual contender. Any mistake or extended struggles were magnified. There were even calls in recent seasons to replace the three-time All-Star as closer despite his surface numbers.

“He's been one of the game's best closers for a long time now. Any situation, any circumstance, he's been in it, and he knows how to come out of it."

- Braves starter Max Fried, on new teammate Kenley Jansen

Treinen was quick to acknowledge that even during his lower points, Jansen is among the game’s best relievers.

“He’s been very consistent,” Treinen said. “As much as people want to rag on Kenley, his ups and downs, and even his downs are still top five, top seven years in the league. He’s getting saves. He’s putting up numbers. Most teams when they’re looking for a closer would gladly take what he was scrutinized for.

“So when you have that and then you get an elite year out of Kenley, you realize what he’s capable of. Last year he was throwing 93 to 97 (mph) again, so he’s in a really good spot. The Braves are a great organization, and I wish him the best. We’ll see him in April when they come to LA. I’m sure we’ll have a nice little ceremony for him.”

After Jansen joined the Braves, he posted old photos of his young self on Instagram in Braves gear. He idolized Fred McGriff and fellow Curacao native Andruw Jones. He mentioned the Braves signing his brother, Ardley, which led the family to visit spring training in Kissimmee, Fla.

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Jansen also remembered getting to hit and play catch on the field at spring training.

“Eighteen years later, I am getting the chance to wear this uniform,” Jansen wrote. “History repeats itself and now it’s me and Ozzie Albies as the Curacao combo. I’m beyond excited to be on the Braves and to (defend) the title!!!! @Braves fans – I’m ready. Let’s get it!!!!!”

The Jansen acquisition concluded one of the wildest offseasons in team history. His arrival came on the heels of a significant departure. The Braves bid iconic first baseman Freddie Freeman farewell when they traded for Olson. Freeman, who like Jansen debuted in 2010 and spent 12 seasons with his original club, signed with the Dodgers.

The unlikely Freeman-Jansen swap continued what’s become an NL arms race between two clear front-runners. To top it off, last week the Dodgers traded for former Braves All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel to replace Jansen. The high-profile players and recent history should make Braves-Dodgers the hottest out-of-division rivalry in MLB.

It feels destined Jansen will face Freeman in a pivotal spot. Maybe even with a pennant on the line.

“It’s going to be very weird,” Freeman told the AJC when asked about facing Jansen. “A good storyline. But it’d be awesome. Two teams trying to win, doing their best, and it’ll be a little weird when you have two guys that were with one team for so long to now switch teams. But hopefully you’re right and we’re doing that in October.”