Craig Kimbrel will no longer serve as the Dodgers’ closer

Craig Kimbrel is no longer the Dodgers’ closer.

There. That’s what Dave Roberts said on Friday. Finally.

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

“I’m thinking right now, um, I’m going to hold Craig down tonight,” Roberts said. “And my expectation is, yes, I spoke to him today. At the moment, the plan is to switch roles and put him in a position to play in different situations in different innings.

“He was very open about doing what was best for the ball club. So I feel good about it and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Robert’s comments came ahead of 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 hitter hit Andrew Heaney to a two-run homer in the third inning and Phil Bickford to a three-run homer in the fourth to the delight of 50,041 viewers.

As the sixth inning rolled around, Roberts contradicted his pregame testimony by calling out Kimbrel with the Dodgers 8-0 behind. Is the new role of a reliever with 394 career saves a clean-up? It’s hard to know how best to use it. Kimbrel finished Pujols with a groundout to shortstop and required just seven pitches to retire the team.

“The way the game was going, he was needed,” Roberts said. “He said he would serve if needed.”

Kimbrel gave up a home run in Thursday’s ninth inning that gave the Arizona Diamondbacks a run lead. The Dodgers won at Mookie Betts’ walk-off single late in the inning, giving Kimbrel the win. That was clearly the last straw for Roberts.

Kimbrel, 34, has missed five out of 27 saves and has a 4.07 ERA in 58 appearances this season. Only 12.1% of his swinging places are missed, which is about the league average. Still, he is seventh all-time in career saves and led the league for four straight years, ending in 2014.

Perhaps that’s why Roberts and the Dodgers stuck with him for so long, even though his effectiveness had evidently waned since his heyday.

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

“My job is to find the best lead for him, and he has no qualms about changing the routine of something he’s always done,” Roberts said. “He sees it as a challenge. That’s what we would expect and it speaks volumes for him as a team player.”

Roberts said no helper would take on the closer role for the time being. Evan Phillips (6-3, 1.24 ERA), Brusdar Graterol (2-3, 2.96) and Alex Vesia (4-0, 2.26) are the obvious contenders.

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 about treating him like we treat all our guys and putting them in the best position to get out,” Roberts said. “That’s how I’m going to tackle every inning for the pen.”

Phillips, 28, was the undisputed top release all season, giving up 29 hits in 58 innings while making 68 outs. He’s lined up for closer action, although his worth was putting out fires regardless of the inning.

Also, he has only three career saves, two this season. Phillips said he wouldn’t handle the ninth inning any differently than everyone else.

I think the best thing you can do as a game-ending guy is maintain consistency throughout the season,” he said.

When a closer-by-committee approach fails, the Dodgers face a situation where a new closer has to emerge with the postseason around the corner. Phillips didn’t sound concerned.

“I don’t really value this role more than what I do now,” he said. “I think the [Dodgers] really drilled it into us that when the phone rings you go out and get your outs. Regardless of the situation, and it could be the ninth inning or a close ball game, however you want to phrase it, my challenge is that when the phone rings, I get the job done.”

Kimbrel is likely to be used almost exclusively against right-handers hitting .208 against him with a .603 on-base plus slugging percentage. Left-handers hit .266 with .786 OPS.

Silencing the Dodgers on Friday was longtime nemesis Jose Quintana, who went six scoreless innings and reduced his ERA to 1.80 in 12 career games against the Dodgers. The left-hander struggled in 24 appearances with the Angels to a 6.75 ERA in 2021, but has 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 was in normal pain a day after playing two innings in a simulated game at Dodger Stadium, “which is a good thing.” Roberts said Gonsolin is expected to play two innings in a rehab game in Oklahoma City with triple-A. Craig Kimbrel will no longer serve as the Dodgers’ closer

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