When manager Dave Roberts sent righty reliever Corey Knebel out to save Friday’s home opener against the Nationals, it seemed like there was a huge sense of relief among fans of the Dodgers everywhere.
That relief wasn’t just because fans realize that Kenley Jansen has been struggling, but it was also because those fans now know that Roberts is open to other options when it comes to closing out games.
After the contest was over, though, Roberts told the media that he was concerned about Kenley’s workload and there were plans set in place to keep him rested. “Today would have been three of four so we talked before the game and we wanted to try and stay away from him,” Roberts said of Jansen.
However, the skipper did mention that he is apparently receptive to using other relievers should a save opportunity present itself.
“I think we’re just in a really good spot whether it’s Victor when there’s a certain run of hitters, Corey or Blake,” Roberts said, referring to Victor Gonzalez, Knebel, and Blake Treinen. “So I feel good about any one of those guys outside of Kenley.”
There couldn’t have been a better candidate than Knebel to notch the save on what turned out to be a special baseball day in Los Angeles on many different levels.
It took Knebel just 10 pitches to put the Nationals away in order. Better yet, nine of those 10 pitches were strikes. And, he struck out the entire Washington side.
For the year, the 29-year-old Knebel has now made four appearances over 3-1/3 shutout innings, allowing no hits and one walk alongside six punchouts. He has registered one hold and two saves while emerging as one of the team’s most viable late-inning relief options.
After being close to not having a contract offered to him with the Brewers, Milwaukee struck a deal to send Knebel to the Dodgers for a player to be named later and cash just before the non-tender deadline last December. The PTBNL turned out to be young lefty pitcher Leo Crawford.
Knebel made his major league debut for the Tigers back in 2014. His best season as a big leaguer came in 2017 for the Brewers as the team’s primary closer when he posted a 1.78 ERA, 126 strikeouts, and 39 saves over 76 appearances.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder from Denton, TX, had UCL surgery in 2019 and was never able to recapture his superior closing magic with the Brewers.
All that could be changing with the Dodgers, as he couldn’t be off to a better start in 2021.
Nevertheless, there has been numerous discussions here in this space that support the idea of the Dodgers not necessarily needing an “appointed closer,” leaving that specific role up in the air based on matchups and/or certain in-game scenarios.
For example, if there is a lefty-dominated part of the order up for the opposition in a save situation, the Dodgers might be better off using Gonzalez. If there is a reliever who hasn’t thrown in three or four days, that particular arm could be the better option. If there are a few players due up for the opposing team who Kenley has dominated over the years, perhaps the team could use Jansen.
Whatever the case may be, it’s good to know that Roberts is open to using other arms in a save situation while it’s also refreshing not hearing him take the stance of “Kenley’s my closer and that’s not changing right now,” like he has in past years.