LOS ANGELES – Kenley Jansen was back in the stadium he’s called home for his entire MLB career and preparing to go practice with players he’s known for most of his life.
The locker room took some getting used to though.
Jansen has spent seven seasons pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but on Sunday he was with the Netherlands and using the visitor’s clubhouse at Dodger Stadium as the Dutch got ready for Monday’s World Baseball Classic semifinal against Puerto Rico.
“I’ve got that adrenaline already, pitching in Dodger Stadium,” Jansen told The Japan Times during the Netherlands’ practice. “I’m happy to be here. It’s kind of weird to be on the other side (in the visitor’s facilities), but I’m happy to be here.”
His teammates were also happy to welcome him back into the fold.
“Hopefully we’re winning in the ninth and we can use him,” said Dutch infielder Xander Bogaerts. “He’s definitely one of the best closers in the game, and if we can get a chance to get him in the game while we’re winning, it’d be nice.”
Jansen recorded 47 saves for the Dodgers last season, tied for second-most in the majors. He finished the year with 104 strikeouts in 68⅔ innings and made his first All-Star team. He’s had at least 25 saves every season since 2012, topping 40 in 2014 and 2016, and at least 100 strikeouts in three of the last four seasons.
His cut fastball is one of the more effective weapons in MLB, drawing numerous comparisons to retired Yankees great Mariano Rivera, who also excelled at throwing the cutter. Not many players have been effective at combating it and Jansen’s mastery of the pitch is one of the reasons he’s become one of baseball’s elite closers.
“Well, the entire world knows what’s coming,” said Puerto Rico’s Kike Hernandez, who is one of Jansen’s Dodgers teammates. “It’s going to be a cutter, just like Mariano did back in the day. Kenley probably has the best cutter in the game right now, and he’s going to come right at you. You know what’s coming, and he’s one of the best for a reason. So you’ve just got to make sure that you look for one pitch, one spot, one location, and if you get it, try to not miss it, because he’s really good.”
Jansen remained in the U.S. for spring training with the Dodgers during the first two rounds of the WBC, when the Dutch played games in Seoul and Tokyo. Because of the time difference, he said he would check the team’s boxscores and watch replays of the games the morning after.
“I wasn’t surprised at all that they made it here,” Jansen said. “We have a lot of talent on this squad.”
Jansen had to like most of what he saw, with the Dutch falling only twice, to Israel in the first round and against Japan, home country of his Dodgers teammate Kenta Maeda, in the second.
“He was happy that they won, and glad that I wasn’t there,” Jansen joked about Maeda. “We were having fun. Maeda is a great guy, great guy to have around. I have a lot of respect for him and he’s helping us tremendously, and we’re looking forward to having him in 2017.”
Jansen’s last appearance for the Netherlands at the WBC was as a catcher during the 2009 tournament. He was added the roster in 2013, but didn’t make an appearance. On Sunday, the 29-year old said he was excited to play with his countrymen again.
“It’s great,” he said. Just growing up with these guys and playing with them since age 5, 6, it’s good to have them around and it’s good to be here. We’re just trying to win this whole thing.”
Jansen’s presence will loom large if the Dutch find themselves trying to protect a late advantage against a Puerto Rican team that leads the WBC with 51 runs scored.
“You’re adding a quality major league closer,” said Wladimir Balentien. “I think to have him back there in the bullpen takes a lot of pressure off a lot of guys back there. It’s a good fit for us.”