LOS ANGELES — When the Dodgers decided back in 2009 to take a struggling catcher in their organization and begin the process of making him a reliever, Kenley Jansen immediately went to the videotape. Mariano Rivera was still recording saves, and Jansen studied him as much as he could.
“I can tell you part of having that cutter, [was watching] Mariano Rivera late in his career,” Jansen said.
The 30-year-old closer has plans to thank the legendary former Yankee and fire a question or two his way. “I’ve already booked my tickets in December to meet him,” Jansen said with a smile Monday on the eve of the World Series.
“I’m just going to try and pick his brain, get all the information I can,” he said. “You think, over 20 years he did it so successfully. He’s been through ups and downs, lost World Series but he won five World Series. He’s done it all. Experience-wise, that’s the guy you really want to sit down with and listen to and tell you how to get better.”
The notion of Jansen getting better is a scary one for the Astros, who looked helpless in going down in order against him in the ninth inning of a 3-1 victory in Game 1.
They did get to him in Game 2 on Wednesday night as Jansen allowed Marwin Gonzalez’s game-tying homer in the ninth for a rare blown save.
The 6-5, 275-pound righthander, featuring a hard cutter, saved 41 games this season while posting an MLB-best 1.32 ERA for relievers. Jansen signed a five-year, $80-million free-agent deal in the offseason in agreeing to come back to the Dodgers. He ranked second among NL relievers with 109 strikeouts and had the majors’ best strikeout-to-walk ratio (15.57). The last five years Jansen has averaged 39 saves with a 2.01 ERA and 0.839 WHIP.
That Jansen thinks there’s room for improvement and desires to meet Rivera impressed his manager.
“I think that Kenley wanting to do that, I think that’s fantastic,” Dave Roberts said. “It’s a credit to him that he’s a superstar player and just wants to get better. And Mariano, you know, probably the best of all time. So for him to want to get information from a great person and player in Mariano, that says a lot for Kenley and how great he wants to be. It’s unique when you have a great player who understands that there is room to grow and get better, and Kenley has that.”
Jansen didn’t start throwing a cutter because of Rivera; he already was trying to develop one. What Jansen wanted to study was how Rivera attacked hitters with it.
“I was so new doing this, I kind of wanted to see how he was facing the big-league hitters,” he said. “I knew he had a similar pitch.”
Jansen stopped himself and smiled again.
“I mean, I had a similar pitch to what he had,” he said. “And so it was kind of like, ‘How am I going to get big-league hitters out?’ So I started following his videos and stuff like that and next thing you know, that helped tremendously.”
And what did Jansen learn?
“You can’t be afraid to throw behind in the count,” he said. “He’s a pitcher, this is why he’s the best closer ever, in a game that he could start a pitch in the zone and make the hitters chase. And then when he needed to bring one in the zone, he just painted. He’s that confident. I have to work my way to be the same thing. That helped me tremendously watching his approach.”
Fox Sports analyst and former Yankee Alex Rodriguez is a fan of Jansen’s, and A-Rod was the go-between for the planned meeting with Rivera.
“Being a kid, you love watching the major leagues on TV,’’ Jansen said, “and next thing you know you’re talking to Alex Rodriguez and he tells you that [he’s an admirer], it’s like you’re dreaming. And then he told me, ‘I’m going to hook you up with Mariano.’
“In that situation, you want to pinch yourself.”