What’s been brewing for a while, and what was obvious on Thursday night became official on Friday. The Dodgers have removed Craig Kimbrel from the closer role.
Kimbrel’s latest misstep came Thursday night, pitching in a tie game in the ninth, he hit Jake McCarthy then allowed an easy steal only to be rewarded when McCarthy came off second base in his slide. Kimbrel then allowed a home run to Christian Walker, a flat pitch that so exasperated manager Dave Roberts that he said after the game, “The stuff is starting to slide a little bit.”
It was the third time in the last four appearances that Kimbrel allowed at least one run.
Roberts is never going to embarrass one of his players. It’s not his nature, and one of the reasons he’s been so successful as a manager. His postgame comments on Kimbrel Thursday night were matter of fact, and the it was clear that Kimbrel was on the outs as closer.
On Friday, Roberts first talked to Kimbrel about his change in roles, then shared the news with reporters at Dodger Stadium.
Dave Roberts said the plan is for Craig Kimbrel to change roles. Roberts said he had a talk with Kimbrel who is open to do whatever is best for the team.— Dodger Insider (@DodgerInsider) September 23, 2022
Dave Roberts on if Craig Kimbrel’s removal from the closer role will apply to the postseason as well: “I don't know. I think that's where we're at right now. Nothing is cemented but we think that’s the best way to go about it right now.”— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) September 23, 2022
Kimbrel on the season has a 4.14 ERA, ranking 19th among the 22 Dodgers pitchers to have thrown at least 10 innings this season. His xERA is 3.57 and he’s blown five of his 27 save opportunities. A high strikeout rate fueled stronger peripherals in the first half, but since the All-Star break, Kimbrel has whiffed only 18 of his 100 batters faced.
Kimbrel’s 27.2-percent strikeout rate is the lowest of his career.
This is nothing new for the Dodgers or Roberts, who had annual late-season Kenley Jansen crises from 2018 to 2020, resulting in the Dodgers turning elsewhere for most important moments in the postseason for the last two of those years.
The Dodgers will go with matchups to close, as they have done at points this season when Kimbrel was unavailable due to heavy usage. Evan Phillips has been the team’s best relief pitcher this year, and Chris Martin has been lights out (26 strikeouts, one walk) since getting acquired at the trade deadline. Those two figure to be the most likely to earn save situations, with each saving two games over the last two-plus months.
Brusdar Graterol, activated from the injured list Thursday, has also saved three games this season.
#Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, when asked if they feel comfortable going into October without a set closer: “It’s kind of the whole mindset of because you’ve always done something one way doesn’t make it right. It might not be traditional, but I’m not too concerned about that.”— Juan Toribio (@juanctoribio) September 24, 2022
On the flip side, just because Kimbrel was ousted as closer doesn’t necessarily close the door on him making the postseason roster. It still behooves the Dodgers to figure out a way to get Kimbrel to throw more strikes, in whatever role that is. There are only 12 games and 13 days remaining in the regular season, plus five more off days before the National League Division Series begins.
Think back to two weeks ago, when Kimbrel was pitching his seventh consecutive appearance (of eight) with a 1-2-3 inning, coinciding with him changing his entrance music to ‘Let It Go.’ Whether Kimbrel can find anything close to that kind of groove remains to be seen, but that makes these final 12 game all the more important for him to re-find his way.