Charles Odum
I cover Atlanta pro sports and college sports in Georgia.
CharlesOdumcodum@ap.org

New closer Jansen gives Braves one of MLB’s deepest bullpens

March 23, 2022 GMT
Atlanta Braves newly signed pitcher Collin McHugh loosens up at baseball spring training in North Port, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Atlanta Braves newly signed pitcher Collin McHugh loosens up at baseball spring training in North Port, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Atlanta Braves newly signed pitcher Collin McHugh loosens up at baseball spring training in North Port, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
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Atlanta Braves newly signed pitcher Collin McHugh loosens up at baseball spring training in North Port, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
1 of 3
Atlanta Braves newly signed pitcher Collin McHugh loosens up at baseball spring training in North Port, Fla., Thursday, March 17, 2022. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

VENICE, Fla. (AP) — Kenley Jansen remembers watching in awe from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen as the Atlanta Braves’ relievers, led by Will Smith and Tyler Matzek, excelled in last season’s NL Championship Series.

The bullpen led the Braves past the Dodgers and on to their first World Series championship since 1995.

Now Jansen’s goal is to help make the 2022 Braves’ bullpen even better. Thanks to the additions of Jansen and Collin McHugh, the relief corps ranks as one of the deepest in the majors and a major strength of the Braves.

“It’s going to be awesome to be here and see what we can do,” Jansen said Wednesday. “I watched it from the other side and it was nasty. I can’t wait to see us dominate again this year.”

In a surprise signing, Jansen came to the defending champion Braves on a one-year, $18 million deal on Friday night. The move was unexpected because the bullpen already looked set.

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But why pass up the opportunity to add a three-time All-Star who has 350 career saves?

“He’s been one of the game’s best closers for a long time,” left-handed starter Max Fried said this week. “Any situation, any circumstance he’s been in, he knows how to come out of it. ... It’s going to be really awesome. You can’t have too many guys.”

A signature moment of the Braves’ clinching 4-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS came when Matzek struck out the side in the seventh with two runners in scoring position. A.J. Minter pitched eight scoreless innings in the series. Smith earned two wins and the Game 6 save.

“Tremendous,” Jansen said of the bullpen’s dominance. “Devastating.”

Similar descriptions could be used for Jansen, who had 38 saves with a 2.22 for the Dodgers last season.

Jansen, 34, now becomes the closer of the deep Atlanta bullpen that also includes Smith, McHugh, Matzek, Minter and Luke Jackson. Among other bullpen candidates are Darren O’Day, Tyler Thornburg and rookie Spencer Strider.

There’s more to come. Later this season, Kirby Yates, yet another offseason addition, is expected to join the bullpen when he completes his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Yates led the majors with 41 saves for San Diego in 2019.

When told by Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos that he was close to signing Jansen, Smith quickly said he had no issue with Jansen handling the closer’s role. Smith ranked third in the NL with 37 saves in 2021, one spot behind Jansen.

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“I obviously enjoyed the ninth inning and enjoyed throwing there,” Smith said Tuesday. “It was fun. We had a good run at it but he’s a proven closer, an All-Star. He’s got over 300 saves. It was kind of a no-brainer, almost. And he clearly makes our team and bullpen better. I’m excited to have him.”

Similarly, Jansen said he’d have no problem pitching in a setup role.

“I don’t want to be married to the role,” Jansen said. “It’s what can we do to make the team better. That’s how I see it. If it’s for me to be in the ninth, I will do it. If I have to go get some other outs also, too, it’s how can we get better to win another championship. It’s a nasty bullpen and it’s going to be a big part of the team. That’s how I see it.”

With so much talent and depth in the bullpen, the Braves’ most obvious path to repeating as World Series champions is turning games over to the bullpen with a lead.

“Our starters are so good they could easily go nine every night,” Smith said. “But if they go seven innings every night and we’ve got all those arms in the bullpen down there, that just really shortens the game. It really keeps it in our favor.”

NOTES: The Braves narrowed the competition for the final two spots in their rotation by optioning RHP Touki Toussaint to Triple-A Gwinnett. OF Drew Waters also was optioned to Gwinnett. Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Wright, Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson remain as rotation contenders behind Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson. Wright threw three scoreless innings against Tampa Bay on Wednesday, allowing three hits with two strikeouts and one walk.

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