Craig Kimbrel will no longer serve as the Dodgers’ closer – Los Angeles Times

Craig Kimbrel will no longer serve as the Dodgers' closer - Los Angeles Times

Craig Kimbrel is no longer the Dodgers‘ closer.

There. Dave Roberts said so on Friday. Finally

The words came haltingly, with thoughtful pauses, but they came.

“I just think now, um, I’m going to take it easy on Craig tonight,” Roberts said. “And my expectation is, yes, I talked to him today. Right now the plan is to switch roles and get him in a position to pitch in different innings in different situations.

“He’s been very open to doing whatever is best for the ballclub. So I feel good about that and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Roberts comments came before the Dodgers’ 11-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium highlighted by Albert Pujols joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth in the 700 home run club. The former Dodgers and Angels slugger hit a two-run homer off Andrew Heaney in the third inning and a three-run shot off Phil Bickford in the fourth to the delight of a crowd of 50,041.

When the sixth inning rolled around, Roberts contradicted his pregame statement by calling on Kimbrel with the Dodgers trailing 8-0. Is the new role of reliever with 394 career saves a mop-up man? It’s hard to know how best to use him. Kimbrel retired Pujols on a groundout to shortstop and needed just seven pitches to retire the side.

“The way the game played out, he was needed,” Roberts said. “He did say that if he was needed, he would show up.”

Kimbrel gave up a home run in the ninth inning Thursday that put the Arizona Diamondbacks ahead by a run. The Dodgers won in the bottom of the inning on Mookie Betts’ ex-single, which gave Kimbrel the win. That was clearly the last straw for Roberts.

Kimbrel, 34, has blown five of 27 save opportunities and has a 4.07 ERA in 58 appearances this season. Only 12.1% of his pitches swung are missed, roughly league average. However, he is seventh all-time in career saves and led the league in saves four consecutive years ending in 2014.

Maybe that’s why Roberts’ front office and the Dodgers stuck with him for so long even though his effectiveness has obviously declined since his prime.

Roberts said he appreciated the way Kimbrel took the news that he was no longer the closer.

“My job is to find the best path for him and he’s not worried about changing the routine of something he’s always done,” Roberts said. “He sees it as a challenge. That’s how we would expect it and it speaks volumes for him as a team player.”

Roberts said no reliever will assume the closer’s role at this time. Evan Phillips (6-3, 1.24 ERA), Brusdar Graterol (2-3, 2.96) and Alex Vesia (4-0, 2.26) are the obvious candidates.

Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday.

Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

“No, for us it’s a find, it’s treating him like we treat all our guys, putting them in the best position to go out,” Roberts said. “That way I’ll get closer to every inning for the ‘pen.’

Phillips, 28, has been the undisputed top reliever all season, giving up 29 hits in 58 innings while striking out 68. He’s in line for closer duty, though his value has put out fires regardless of the innings.

Also, he has just three career saves, two this season. Phillips said he wouldn’t approach the ninth inning any differently than anyone else.

I think the best thing you can do as the guy coming in to finish the game is to provide consistency throughout the season,” he said.

If a closer-by-committee approach fails, the Dodgers face a situation where a new closer must emerge with the postseason around the corner. Phillips didn’t sound like he was confused.

“I don’t really value that role any higher than what I’m doing now,” he said. “I think that the [Dodgers] really instilled in us that when the phone rings, you get out and get out. So regardless of the situation, and it could be the ninth inning or a tight ball game, however you want to put it, my challenge is that when the phone rings, I do my job.”

Kimbrel will likely be used almost exclusively against right-handed hitters, who are batting .208 with a .603 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against him. Lefties are hitting .266 with a .786 OPS.

Silencing the Dodgers on Friday was longtime nemesis Jose Quintana, who threw six scoreless innings, lowering his ERA in 12 career games against the Dodgers to 1.80. The left-hander struggled to a 6.75 ERA in 24 appearances with the Angels in 2021 but posted a 3.04 ERA in 30 starts with the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates this season.

Tony Gonsolin’s next step

Roberts said injured starter Tony Gonsolin had normal soreness “which is a good thing” a day after he pitched two innings in a mock game at Dodger Stadium. Roberts said Gonsolin is scheduled to pitch two innings in a rehab game at triple-A Oklahoma City.

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