Dave Roberts still believes in Craig Kimbrel as Dodgers’ closer

The Dodgers have done this song and dance before.

You will have an experienced closer who begins to struggle. They will stick with him for better or for worse throughout the season. Then when the playoffs come, they’ll turn and turn to someone else for ninth-inning situations in the heart of October.

In the past it was Kenley Jansen.

This year it seems increasingly likely that they will do the same with Craig Kimbrel.

Kimbrel, who was acquired in a trade this spring to become Jansen’s replacement in the back of the Dodgers’ bullpen, should give the team veteran experience and future Hall of Famer pedigree in the ninth inning.

Instead, he usually caused heartburn and headaches.

He made just 20 out of 24 saves – with all four missed saves coming into one-run chances.

His ERA is 4.57 and his WHIP is 1.55 – far worse than anything Jansen has ever posted, even as he was regularly booed during his worst seasons with the team.

Most importantly, Kimbrel’s struggles give an already undermanned bullpen a major issue that needs to be addressed before the playoffs begin.

On Wednesday afternoon, manager Dave Roberts continued to speak out in favor of the right-hander, reiterating he remains the team’s closer player for now.

But, Roberts was asked, if Kimbrel can’t be trusted for one-run leads in August, how can the team count on him in such situations in October?

“Well, we’re just lucky that October isn’t here right now,” Roberts said. “If we have a one-run lead tonight, he hits. So that’s where I’m at right now.”

The decision paid off in the Dodgers’ 2-1 win on Wednesday night.

After home runs from Austin Barnes and Max Muncy and seven shutouts from Tony Gonsolin, Kimbrel was able to seal a one-run lead in ninth place for the first time all season and strand two baserunners with two outs one night after faltering in a similar one Situation against the Brewers (62-54) in the team’s extra-inning loss.

“That’s the beauty of being in the bullpen,” Kimbrel said. “You don’t have to sit on it for long.”

Still, Roberts didn’t commit to the Dodgers (81-35) before the game and used the 34-year-old as a postseason wrap.

“With his track record, he absolutely deserves the right to take a longer look. I have no problem with that,” Roberts said. “But by the time we get into September, the best pitchers will be pitching. That’s the way it has to be. And I think that’s the only right way to deal with it.”

Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel leaves the field after being taken out of play.

Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel leaves the field after being put out of play in the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs July 7 at Dodger Stadium.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Roberts also conceded that this season the team’s earlier use of Jansen – who sidestepped in some of the biggest moments of the team’s 2019 National League Division Series loss to the Washington Nationals and during his run only for – was beginning to resemble three rescue situations was called to the 2020 World Series.

“I think that’s fair,” Roberts said. “In the sense of once you reach a certain point in the schedule, the best players should play. I firmly believe that the players make the lineup and the players decide who serves. So that depends on the performance.”

And what exactly does Kimbrel have to fix in the last few months to save his season?

“I think he’s too good sometimes and I think he has the ability to be more efficient,” said Roberts. “To be perfectly honest, sometimes I think he’s chasing the strikeouts instead of chasing the outs. … He gets strike one, then he’s doing too well. And then when the batsman comes back into the count, you can’t be good. Now you get pitches that are spoiled. So we want outs. I don’t care how they come.”

Roberts added it’s too early to speculate on possible contingencies if the team ultimately takes a different direction in the closer role at the end of the season.

However, the list of candidates is becoming clearer and clearer.

However, the list of contenders is becoming clearer, from set-up man Evan Phillips to hard-throwing right-hander Brusdar Graterol (who could be returning from a shoulder injury as early as this weekend) to still-rehab veteran Blake Treinen.

“I have a very good feeling about us, the group of guys coming out of the stable, and how we can bring them together and prevent runs,” said Roberts. “I feel really comfortable with that.”

Whichever direction the Dodgers go, the clock is ticking for them to decide.

In 2020 they won another World Series without a traditional closer. But in 2019, riots in the back of the bullpen cost them big bucks in a Game 5 NLDS loss to the Washington Nationals.

How things will continue in 2022 remains to be seen.

The only thing that is certain is that the Dodgers either need Kimbrel to make drastic improvements in a hurry or they are looking for other ways to end games.

“For many reasons, I need to start throwing the ball better, getting the ball over the plate and showing that I can dominate,” Kimbrel said. “Not just for myself and to feel comfortable, but to make everyone else feel comfortable going into the playoffs. It’s definitely my goal for the rest of the year to get things right and get ready for the playoffs.” Dave Roberts still believes in Craig Kimbrel as Dodgers’ closer

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