October 15, 2020 | 9:31pm
Kenley Jansen pushing a mop isn’t an ideal look for the Dodgers at this time of year.
But there was the All-Star closer, summoned in the sixth inning in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series, not to get a tough out in a big spot, but for mop-up duty with his team holding a 14-run lead on the Braves.
Such is life for Jansen, whose decreased velocity — specifically on his cutter — has become a major headache for the Dodgers. If there was a positive from the perfect sixth inning he pitched in the runaway it was that his cutter sat in the 89-91 mph range, up two or three ticks from recent appearances.
“I was really pleased the way he threw the baseball,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Every inning is important. Every out is important.
“To give him an opportunity to pitch, as he has been working through some delivery stuff, to see how it plays to major league hitters, that’s beneficial for everyone. So I was just really happy with the outing.”
The 33-year-old Jansen has been a mainstay for the Dodgers in their run of eight straight years in the playoffs. He entered Thursday 1-1 with a 2.22 ERA, 0.816 WHIP and 17 saves in 45 career postseason appearances.
Alarm bells sounded in his two NLDS appearances against the Padres (who were swept by the Dodgers), in which Jansen allowed three hits and two earned runs over 1 ¹/₃ innings.
It was telling that in Game 1 of the NLCS on Monday, with the score 1-1 in the ninth inning, Roberts entrusted the game to Blake Treinen. The Braves scored four runs in the inning and won 5-1.
Jansen didn’t emerge until Wednesday, after the Dodgers had set a postseason record with 11 runs in the first inning and had built a 15-1 lead in the sixth.
“Kenley is still our guy,” Corey Seager said. “You trust Kenley to go out there and get outs. He’s done that for a very long time in his career, and we expect nothing different.”
Jansen tested positive for COVID-19 in July and was late reporting to camp, but had a solid regular season for the Dodgers, appearing in 27 games and pitching to a 3.33 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 11 saves in 13 chances.
But he appeared to lose confidence in his signature pitch, the cutter, throwing it just 63 percent of the time, the lowest frequency of his career. Even so, he posted his best strikeout rate in the last three seasons.
If Jansen can’t be trusted in the ninth inning, the Dodgers need to find another answer, whether that is Pedro Baez, Brusdar Graterol or Joe Kelly.
For now, Jansen will have to show he’s worthy of returning to the role.
“I understand, and I’m very sensitive to what he has accomplished on the baseball field as a closer, as a premium All-Star,” Roberts said. “But we also have to look at real time and do what’s best for the Dodgers, and he understands that. When he gets the baseball, I’m going to expect him to get those outs. And he expects the same.”