Dave Roberts did not flinch. With his club nursing a two-run lead in the ninth inning against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night, the Dodgers manager summoned the man he says he still trusts to close games. He gave the ball to Kenley Jansen.
For a few moments, Jansen, his disastrous outing Saturday still fresh, appeared in control. The right-hander got Fernando Tatis Jr., a favorite to win the National League MVP award, to ground out to begin the inning. Then things went sideways. Manny Machado lined a single. Mitch Moreland blooped a single to center field with help from AJ Pollock’s slow jump. Finally, Jansen walked Austin Nola to load the bases.
Wil Myers was next and Jansen suddenly found a rhythm. Myers struck out on three pitches. Then, six pitches later, Jansen got Jake Cronenworth to whiff on a 92-mph cutter for strike three to preserve the 3-1 win at Petco Park.
“These games are only going to get bigger,” Roberts said of Jansen. “I trust him with the baseball.”
Three days after being charged with five runs without securing an out against the Houston Astros, Jansen earned his 11th save against the middle of one of the best lineups in the majors. The Dodgers’ lead in the NL West, as a result, grew back to 21/2 games with 11 games remaining after Monday’s late-inning collapse in the series opener. The Padres’ winning streak ended at eight.
“I’m not going to let stuff like that in the past define our season,” Jansen said. “I don’t care what the result is and stats and any of that bullcrap. It’s time to win a championship. That’s all it is about.”
Jansen’s escape ensured that Tony Gonsolin’s dominant performance wasn’t wasted. The rookie right-hander muzzled the Padres over a career-high seven innings. He allowed one run on four hits despite recording only two strikeouts. He didn’t issue a walk and threw 90 pitches.
The Dodgers’ offense, a potent operation that has produced the third-most runs in the majors this season, received a boost Tuesday: Justin Turner returned to the lineup after missing 14 games because of a strained hamstring. Turner batted third as the designated hitter — he won’t play third base for at least three days — and provided an immediate impact.
The veteran went three for four and knocked in the game’s first run with an RBI single to right field in the first inning. In the third inning, he lofted a two-out single. Two batters later, Cody Bellinger drove him in with a single.
It was Bellinger’s first RBI since Aug. 30 — a stretch of 11 games — as he plods through another deep slump. The reigning MVP entered Tuesday batting .170 with a .550 OPS in his previous 14 games. On the season, he had a .215 batting average and .707 OPS. The recent struggles prompted Roberts to drop him from the cleanup spot.
But he isn’t the only left-handed slugger underperforming for the Dodgers (34-15). Joc Pederson struck out and grounded into a double play in his two at-bats Tuesday to sink his batting average to .174. He’s two for 31 in his last 11 games.
Max Muncy, meanwhile, was given Tuesday off as a mental break. The 2019 All-Star is batting .198 with 52 strikeouts. He owns a 0.0 WAR, making him the equivalent of a replacement-level player.
Does Roberts believe the Dodgers can win a World Series without at least two of them reversing their struggles?
“No, I don’t,” the manager said. “I think those three guys are a big part of our lineup. So, to have them not get on track, it’d be very difficult.”
The diminished benefits of winning the division and earning the No. 1 seed were confirmed when Major League Baseball announced its unprecedented postseason format. The top four seeds in each league will host the first round, a best two-of-three games series, at their ballparks. The four winners in each league will then enter bubbles in Texas and California.
Wherever they play, the Dodgers need Turner 100% healthy, more production from their stable of left-handed sluggers, and Jansen to pitch clean ninth innings to win their first World Series in 32 years.
Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of Fernando Valenzuela’s major-league debut as a 19-year-old prospect in 1980. The Mexican left-hander entered a 9-0 Dodgers loss to the Atlanta Braves in the sixth inning. He allowed two runs in two innings. He logged nine more relief appearances to finish the season before making his first career start on Opening Day the next season. He threw a shutout, launching Fernandomania en route to winning the National League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards.
Valenzuela, 59, spent 10 seasons with the Dodgers and is an analyst on the Dodgers’ Spanish-language television broadcast team. He finished his 17-year major-league career 173 wins and a 3.54 ERA.
“Man, Fernando, on many levels, has impacted not only the Mexican community, [but] Major League Baseball, the Dodgers, he’s just such a good man and I didn’t realize it had been 40 years,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s crazy.”
The Dodgers fired at least four members of their pro scouting department, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, as part of broader downsizing across the organization. The Athletic first reported the cuts. … Reliever Joe Kelly will be active in Wednesday’s series after a month-long stint on the injured list and serving a five-game suspension.