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Craig Kimbrel on trade to Dodgers: ‘I don’t think I can be any happier’

Reaction to Friday’s deal with the White Sox

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SPORTS-BBA-WHITESOX-KIMBREL-HERNANDEZ-TB Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Dodgers swung a trade with the White Sox for closer Craig Kimbrel on the penultimate day of camp in Arizona, which made it extra convenient for Kimbrel and outfielder AJ Pollock, who only had to walk across to the other side of Camelback Ranch.

What the Dodgers get is a defined closer in the wake of Kenley Jansen leaving, a role Kimbrel was happy to resume after a setup role in the stacked Chicago bullpen.

“I don’t think I can be any happier. You come over to a team like this that already expects to win,” Kimbrel said on Friday. “It will be nice to come in and just do my job. It feels really nice.”

Kimbrel’s 2021 was an odd one, split between the north and south sides of Chicago. With the Cubs, Kimbrel was dominant in his familiar role of closer, saving 23 games and he finished off a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium on June 24, even if he didn’t realize it at the time.

But after getting traded to the White Sox on July 30, with fellow All-Star closer Liam Hendriks already in place, Kimbrel was reduced to a setup role. His numbers suffered, and he blew more saves in two months with the White Sox (three) than he did in four months with the Cubs (two).

“I’ll take the ball in the seventh, eighth, or ninth, it doesn’t matter. I’m still going out there giving the same effort,” Kimbrel said. “Obviously, the numbers have shown that its a little different, but it has nothing to do with my mentality going into the game or anything like that.”

Kimbrel had a 4.42 ERA in the eighth inning in 2021 compared to just 0.99 in the ninth. His career numbers aren’t as pronounced, but his ninth-inning ERA is just 2.01 compared to 3.21 in the eighth, with 11 times as many innings in the former.

“Over the years you get used to doing something over and over and over again, I guess you can say there’s comfort there,” he said. “But there’s still adrenaline and excitement, all those things — that doesn’t only come in the ninth inning. It comes at any point you’re given the ball.”