Some fans cheered. Others booed. But when Kenley Jansen made his return to the Dodger Stadium mound, toeing the rubber at Chavez Ravine in another team’s uniform for the first time in his career, everyone in attendance Tuesday night was on their feet.
The Dodgers’ longtime closer had returned to Los Angeles and was back in his element.
And Jansen earned the save against his former team in the Atlanta Braves’ 3-1 win, ending the game with a flyout by former Braves star Freddie Freeman.
After 12 seasons with the Dodgers, Jansen signed with the Braves as a free agent in the offseason, joining the defending World Series champions on a one-year, $16-million contract.
Before Monday’s series opener, Jansen talked to reporters about the difficulty of the transition and the emotions that came with his exodus from Los Angeles. He greeted old teammates in the clubhouse in the afternoon. Then, on the field, he was warmly received during a pregame ceremony, joined on the field by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, third baseman Justin Turner and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
“Just to see the reception he got from the fans, it really was great,” Roberts said. “You could see him getting a little bit emotional.”
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Roberts had hoped it would be the last the Dodgers saw of Jansen this week, and the closer didn’t stir in Monday’s 7-4 loss to LA
But with the Braves leading by two going into the bottom of the ninth Tuesday, Jansen came trotting out of the right-field bullpen at Dodger Stadium for the first time in his career.
After getting Will Smith to fly out and Mookie Betts to swing through a trademark cutter for a strikeout, Jansen fittingly faced Freeman – who is facing the Braves this week for the first time since signing with the Dodgers this spring. The All-Star slugger homered Monday in his first at-bat against his old team.
Freeman, 0 for 4 Tuesday, got a hold of a sinker down the middle but watched the ball die in left-center field for the final out. He walked back to the Dodgers dugout. Jansen celebrated on the mound with his new team.
The Dodgers had been frustrated long before their former closer ended the game.
Facing Braves ace Max Fried, the Dodgers’ star-studded lineup was kept silent for most of the night, managing just two hits against the former Studio City Harvard-Westlake standout.
Fried retired the first 15 Dodgers, carrying a perfect game into the sixth inning before Hanser Alberto lined a single to right. After that inning ended with a double-play, Fried didn’t face more than the minimum until the seventh, when he stranded an infield single by Trea Turner with three strikeouts – giving him eight on the night.
The Dodgers also had their ace pitching. But in a five-inning, three-run start, Walker Buehler still struggled to capture his normal, dominant form to start the season.
Several times, the frustration showed.
When Travis d’Arnaud went deep in the second inning, hammering a first-pitch fastball over the middle of the plate to open the scoring with a solo home run, Buehler appeared annoyed, fidgeting with a new ball while the Braves catcher rounded the bases .
When Eddie Rosario lined a two-strike single to right to begin the fourth inning, setting him up to later score on an RBI double from Orlando Arcia, Buehler looked irritated, stomping into his landing spot on the mound.
And even after he limited damage in the fifth inning, getting a deep flyout to strand a runner at second an at-bat after Austin Riley drove in a run with a check-swing single, Buehler seemed discontent, trudging off the field for the final time.
In all, Buehler gave up eight hits (his most in an outing since September 2019), struck out just two batters (his fewest in a Dodger Stadium start since September 2019) and finished the game with a 4.02 earned-run average through three starts (higher than he had at any point last year).
The Dodgers scratched across one run in the eighth, after Chris Taylor drew a walk, advanced to third on a wild pitch, then scored on an Alberto ground ball.
But that was all they could muster. In the ninth, they faced what so many of their opponents had for a dozen years, becoming the victims of Jansen’s 186th career save at Dodger Stadium — and first to be completed in the bottom of the ninth.
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Gavin Lux was scratched from the lineup after experiencing back tightness before the game. The Dodgers didn’t immediately indicate the severity of Lux’s injury.
Reliever Blake Treinen also was unavailable, as he continues to nurse an arm injury. Treinen will throw off a mound Wednesday, in hopes of returning to game action as soon as Friday.