It took about 150 games, but the inevitable finally happened.
Over the weekend, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced that Craig Kimbrel, one of the greatest closers in baseball history, will no longer be the Dodgers’ closer moving forward. The move isn’t necessarily all that surprising, considering the kind of season Kimbrel has had up until this point.
With less than two weeks remaining in the season, the Dodgers will have to figure out who will be trusted with the ball in the ninth inning.
“It gives us a little more freedom to not have a player solely dedicated to the ninth,” Roberts said to reporters. “If we feel like there’s an opportunity to run him out there and take down an inning or get us out of an inning, I think it makes our bullpen better.”
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of going closer by committee. I think it’s better to play matchups with different pitchers as opposed to locking yourself up with one pitcher. I think this can be advantageous for the Dodgers.
“I’m going to use whoever is available that night and who is the best option for that part of the game and lineup,” Roberts said to reporters. “If you look at the last remaining games, I wouldn’t be surprised if five different guys finished a game.”
The Dodgers have actually had 10 players other than Kimbrel record a save this season, so there are a number of players who are experienced in the ninth inning.
Meanwhile for Kimbrel, this isn’t the first time he’s lost his ‘closer’ title. Last season in Chicago, he appeared in the eighth inning 21 times, along with a few outings in the seventh and sixth innings.
“Over the years I’ve lost my job,” Kimbrel said to reporters. “I think there’s been times where I’ve been successful at it. Going into the playoffs there are a lot of big innings and they’re not always in the ninth. I want to open myself up to say I can go in there and get big outs whenever that is. I’m going to use this as an opportunity to get better at it.”
Although 2022 has been rough for Kimbrel, he really looked to have turned a corner last month. From August 18 through September 13, Kimbrel appeared in nine games and didn’t allow a run. In those 9.1 innings, he allowed only one hit. Although his strikeout numbers were down significantly, Kimbrel looked the best he had looked in a Dodger uniform.
That stretch then came to a screeching halt. Over his next four games, Kimbrel allowed five runs to score. In just 3.2 innings, he allowed three hits, issued two walks and hit three batters with a pitch.
The final straw came on Sept. 22 against Arizona. Entering with the game tied, Kimbrel hit a batter, allowed the go-ahead home run and issued a walk. The following day, Roberts announced they’d be making a switch.
“I’m looking at it as an opportunity to get right,” Kimbrel said to reporters. “I got something to go out there and prove and show what I can still do. This frees it up to make it happen. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not happy with a lot of my performances up to this point. That can change and get better. I’m just focusing on that and making my pitches and doing what I can to get to the point where I can be effective every time I get out there.”
For Kimbrel, he says the biggest issue he’s had this season has been his consistency. Missing with pitches in areas you can’t miss. Giving guys free passes with walks or hit by pitches and putting them on base. Things that shouldn’t happen.
“I call it beating myself,” He said to reporters. “The guy in the box isn’t doing anything. Those kind of things have to go away. They can’t happen in the playoffs. Just got to get to the point where that doesn’t happen.”
Maybe the change of rolls will be beneficial for Kimbrel. Just a day after losing his job, he pitched the sixth inning. He retired the order on only seven pitches.
Kimbrel can still be a valuable piece to the Dodgers’ bullpen. If he is able to limit the free passes and get his strikeout numbers back up, he’ll be a huge weapon in the seventh, eighth or whenever his number is called. Who knows, maybe he is able to turn things around and gain the confidence back of management to close games in October.
“I’m not chasing saves, I’m chasing wins,” Kimbrel said to reporters. “We have a lot of wins to get. This is an opportunity for some guys to step into some roles.”