How therapy helped Braves bond with Kenley Jansen to regain his place among the game’s elite

Kenley Jansen started last Monday the way he tries to start most mornings. Soon after he woke up, in a hotel room in New York, he was meditating. Listen to music to enhance his concentration. On a bus trip to Citi Field, seated next to his Atlanta Braves teammates, he did his breathing exercises. Several hours later, he finished his night as he preferred, something he did little better: He finished the ninth inning, collecting 357 career saves.

Jansen, who scored a save number 358 on Saturday, turned 34 last September. Respecting his age, in recent years he has revamped his diet and workouts to regain his signature fast pace. More importantly, Jansen believes, he reshaped his mind. Jansen credited embracing therapy and meditation as vital to his revival.

“I feel like a better player even from the years I was really great with the Dodgers,” Jansen said. “I feel like in 2021 and 2022, I feel like a better version of myself since my younger days. Because I’m more equipped, I’m more mature now. I’ve been through things. I have faced adversity. And when you have adversity, you have to know how to deal with it. I have dealt with it and overcome it” .

Jansen began treatment after the 2020 season. He took a title with the Dodgers that fall. It was an experience, he can now admit, that was “like sweet and sour.” Enjoy the tournament. But he also found himself unconnected with how the world championship would end. Jansen has always pictured himself winning the final when the drought ended in Los Angeles. Instead, watch from the parade ground as Julio Urías closed the parade.

Jansen did not blame Yurias. And Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager, was not blamed. He didn’t really blame himself. He recovered from his career lows in 2019, but realized that it wasn’t the best option at the highest leverage. Perception tormented him.

“Sometimes you have to understand that men can take you,” Jansen said. “But deep down, it bothers you. Because you want that ball. And you are so used to wanting to help the organization succeed. For me, I’m not there… I’m sorry, I’m not a loser. I need to be there.”

Closer must encase himself in armor to protect against the inevitability of collapse late in the game. In order to reclaim his place as one of the best players in the game, Janssen needed to let his guard down. Acknowledging his weaknesses allowed him to accept his agent’s suggestion about treatment. Jansen started going in 2021. He will continue to do so until 2022, as he adjusts to his new home in Atlanta.

The Braves played a slow game of baseball during the first month of the season. Janssen was not the problem. He turned all eight savings opportunities around, avoiding compromising his ground running and lowering his walking rate. During Sunday’s games, his 7.5 strike-to-walk ratio was the best since 2017, the year he placed fifth in the vote for the National League Cy Young Award.

He presents himself as a director Brian Snicker’s dream. Sneeker said managing Jansen “isn’t difficult.” “Just give him the ball in the ninth inning when you have a lead.”

Its basic tones remain the categorical, the weapon of generations. One day in spring training, veteran loyalist Darren O’Day flew nearby during a training session. O’Day knew Janssen had thrown an excellent piece. But he said he did not realize the stadium’s “fantastic” combination of break and height. “It’s like a unicorn, really.”

The cutter carried Jansen from his debut in 2010 until his peak in 2017. No savior was more valuable than Jansen during his first seven full seasons, according to FanGraphs; Janssen slightly outperformed Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. After heavy use in the 2017 qualifiers, Janssen saw his pace drop in 2018. His EARR rose to 3.01 career worst. I got upset When reporters asked about his tapering cutter.

That winter, Janssen underwent heart surgery for the second time in his career. He couldn’t work out in the off season. He said he wasn’t allowed to lift weights until the second week of spring training. “I couldn’t do anything,” he said. The receipt came in with its results: its age swelled to 3.71. Roberts did not trust him in October. He was struck by the occasional mockery he had heard at Dodger Stadium.

Jansen had intended to reclaim his mantle in 2020. The pandemic had upended him. He contracted COVID-19 just before the season resumed. His son also got sick. The family recovered, but Jansen felt separated for most of the year. He was worried about his heart. He is worried about his family. He felt the weight of his teammates’ disappointment, the frustration of his city, and the frustration of himself. His speed improved, but his throw was erratic.

At times, inside the playoff bubble, Janssen has looked like an all-three-time star from the past decade. He scored three clean runs against Atlanta in the National League Championship Series. At times, though, he looked like the expected bowler from the previous two seasons. Jansen gave up his run to Tampa Bay in Game 3 and took the loss Brain 4 game. He did not play again in 2020.

For now, while the Dodgers celebrated a strange achievement, Jansen tried to have fun. Yet he felt empty of not realizing his vision. His disappointment was evident to those around him. Early in the winter, one of Janssen’s agents, Chris Sisto of Wasserman Baseball, suggested the treatment. Sisto explained that perhaps a pro can help Jansen tackle the past few seasons.

Janssen made an appointment. He got a zoom call. “After the first session, you can tell he’s just relaxed,” Sisto said.

Through his sessions, Jansen developed practices for focusing on himself. He has learned to describe the mind as a muscle. “By playing this game for a long time, you will gain weight — I’m talking about mental weight,” Jansen said. “Like a lot of things you’ve been through. You have to exercise your brain and nourish it with healthy things. So you can hydrate yourself, and then you can lose all that weight.”

He added, “You are not going to be zero pounds. But if you condition yourself, and get yourself back in shape, you can function well.”

For Jansen, exercises often included breathing and meditation. He added them to his regular routine in preparation for moments of crisis. Sometimes, while playing, he closes his eyes and stabilizes his breathing. “You go back to the traumatic events, and you also go back to the great events,” Jansen said. “This is how you discover things.”

Jansen entered 2021 on the final season of his five-year, $80 million contract. He knew it might be his last campaign as a dodger. He said he intended to “come out on a high note.” Jansen couldn’t decorate the heights he touched in 2017 – but he was still pretty good. He gave up fewer visits and fewer carrier pigeons. Stayed calm with the traffic on the bases.

For years, Dodgers officials viewed Janssen as someone who let his emotions go unnoticed. He spoke his mind. (If all goes, it’s gone, Janssen said of his heart, when faced with the prospect of surgery in 2018. Some within the organization believe Janssen is putting too much of his self-esteem on hold for being closer. If the Dodgers removed him from the role mid-season, he might Some officials feared, Jansen might collapse.

There were no such concerns last season. Jansen cut his time to 2.22 and collected 38 saves. In October, he hit 14 hitters in seven goal-free runs. When he struggled, he had mechanisms to deal with.

“Going through the treatment gave him a consistent process of his mind, in preparing, and dealing with good and evil,” Roberts said. “Last year has been consistent as I’ve seen his head and his work all year long.”

Jansen had hoped to return to Los Angeles. His desire for a multi-year contract was not immediately answered by the Dodgers. After the shutdown, negotiations were derailed by the team’s pursuit of Freddy Freeman. During the break, the Braves pounced on a one-year, $16 million deal.

The short-term agreement motivated Janssen to attend, because “all I can think of now is today,” he said. This is another dogma of his treatment. He can focus on the immediate challenge presented by the opponent of that day, or the daily internal challenge to improve his driving.

Jansen considers himself part of an elite dynasty. He still watches Yankees legend Mariano Rivera. Like Jansen, he devastated Rivera by cutting him. And like Rivera, Janssen has expanded his off-court repertoire, to include sliders and doubles. Jansen measures himself against Rivera’s impeccable orders, just as he measures himself against peers like Kimbrel, who replaced Jansen in Los Angeles, or Chapman, or a smaller relief ace like closest Brewers Josh Hader.

“I want Kimbrel to be cool,” Jansen said. “Now he’s starting his new journey with the Dodgers. I want him to be great out there. I want Chapman to recover from his ordeals with the Yankees and be great. While I do that, I look at these guys. I’m pushing myself through these guys. I’m watching roar now, and I I push myself through it. When you see them doing a great job, it makes you want to be bigger.”

Jansen believes his career could extend beyond 2022. He smiled when asked about the Hall of Fame. He said he was trying not to worry about it. He knows he has a chance. It will take several more seasons like 2021 to solidify his condition – many years of breathing, meditating and talking through the trauma of the past. On this front, new horizons have been opened to him by therapy, and Jansen is happy to chat.

“I’m not shy about it,” Jansen said. “I don’t feel weak. I feel stronger.”

(Photo: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

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