How Red Sox closer Kenley Jansen is navigating infrequent save situations

“Jokingly, I think it’s the best job in America, pitching once a week,” Alex Cora joked on Wednesday afternoon.

Kenley Jansen hasn’t had much work to do lately, what with the Red Sox not being in many save situations.

That can be frustrating, especially for a veteran closer who’s not only eager to contribute to his team, but gain entry into the exclusive 500 Saves Club.

The 36-year-old right-hander picked up his 10th save of the season on Wednesday night, but allowed one earned run on one hit and a walk in his inning of work. It was the 430th save of his career, sixth-most in MLB history. He’s eight strikeouts away from overtaking Billy Wagner for fifth on the all-time reliever strikeouts list, too.

However, it was also his first save situation – and only his third appearance – since May 26. (He pitched the ninth in a non-save 8-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers on June 2 and got the win, but no save, in their 6-4 extra-inning victory over the White Sox last Sunday.)

“It is what it is, you know? We’re not gonna just use him just to use him, because then there’s gonna be the week that he needs to go out there four times,” Cora said. “He’s been a pro. Just staying sharp, doing everything possible to keep his rhythm.”

Between his first full season in the Majors in 2011 and last year, Jansen averaged 68 appearances, 52 games finished, and 36 saves per 162 games. In 2023, his first of a two-year contract with the Sox, he made 51 appearances, finished 42 games, and converted 29 saves. He’s made 21 appearances this season, with a 2.91 ERA, 2.04 FIP, and 30 strikeouts over 21.2 innings; he’s 10-for-11 in save opportunities.

“He’s been good. I think the stuff is where it’s supposed to be,” the manager added. “The stuff right now is better than last year, honestly. The cutter is cutting, last year it was more about velo than anything else. The velo’s going up, too, so he’s in a great spot.”

“I feel great,” Jansen told the Herald recently. “I stay motivated, I stay hungry.”

“I got four kids that, they need to see how Dad goes by his business. Nothing in this life is easy, I feel like, and everything has to be earned. I want them to learn and see that everything I accomplished in this life, I had to earn it,” the closer continued, “So, that’s another thing that’s gonna keep motivating me to play this game longer. And seeing how much they’re enjoying it, watching me play, it’s a remedy. It’s a great vitamin to have, watching your kids enjoy you pitching in the big leagues.”

In an era of closer-by-committee and a league devastated by pitching injuries – on what feels like a daily basis – Jansen could very well be something of a dying breed of pitcher. Few closers coming up today will close for as long and as effectively as he has, if any. He uses that to motivate himself, too.

“Everybody gets hyped up for new pitching, but that’s a thing you use, too. Like hey, I’m still here and I’m still throwing the ball well, and I feel like I can improve and get better,” Jansen said. “I mean, it’s great to see the future coming up, great relievers, potential closers doing their thing, but at the end of the day, I’m still doing it for so long and so well, and if you see the numbers, they don’t lie.”

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