Dodgers remove struggling Craig Kimbrel from closer role

USATSI

The Dodgers are 104-46 entering Friday’s game against the Cardinals. They have already clinched the NL West and will very likely end up with the best record in baseball and franchise record for wins in a season. They could even approach the most wins ever (116, which they could tie if they win out, although that’s unlikely).

What could derail them?

Well, ninth-inning problems would certainly be on the list of possibilities. On that front, manager Dave Roberts told reporters Friday that Craig Kimbrel has been removed from the role of closer. Answers to possible questions:

  • Kimbrel seems to understand the move and wants to do what is best for the team (via Dodgers Insider)
  • Roberts isn’t naming a new closer and instead will use multiple relievers in the role (via Juan Toribio)
  • Roberts wouldn’t yet discuss how they are hoping to deal with the role in the playoffs (via Bill Plunkett)

Kimbrel has saved 22 games in 27 chances, but that is far from telling the whole story. He has a 4.14 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, which are pretty terrible for a closer on a 100-plus win team, but, again, those don’t tell the whole story.

Control is an issue with 23 walks in 54 1/3 innings in addition to hitting five batters and having uncorked seven wild pitches. Night to night, you never know if Kimbrel will be able to throw strikes. Command is a big problem, too. If he does throw strikes, he still seems to be missing spots. There’s inconsistency within his pitches, too. Sometimes he can locate the fastball and sometimes he can’t. Sometimes it’s the curve he’s locating (or not locating). It seems to vary from outing to outing, where they are left figuring out which pitch is acceptable to use on that night.

Unsurprisingly, the result has been inconsistency. There have been stretches where he gets zeroes on a nightly basis, but then stretches where he gives up at least one run almost every outing. The latest cycle:

  • From Aug. 4 through Aug. 16, Kimbrel appeared in five games and allowed runs in four.
  • He then went nine scoreless outings.
  • He’s now given up runs in three of his last four outings, giving up five runs (four earned) on three hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings.

As for the ninth-inning options, Roberts has some good candidates. Evan Phillips has been brilliant pretty much all season. Lefties Alex Vesia and Caleb Ferguson have also been worthy of consideration. Chris Martin has been outstanding since his acquisition at the trade deadline. Brusdar Graterol has the look and feel of a big-time closer. Blake Treinen has been an elite closer before, although his health can’t be counted on right now and shouldn’t be counted on for the long haul at this point.

Expect Roberts to play around with the back-end of the bullpen in the coming days as he hopes to fall into a good place before they start the NLDS at home on Oct. 11.

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