Can Craig Kimbrel Hold Down Closer Role for Remainder of Season?

When the Los Angeles Dodgers traded outfielder AJ Pollock to the Chicago White Sox for eight-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel, it appeared the Dodgers closer situation had been resolved.

The trade happened shortly before the beginning of the regular season, surprising many fans. When the Dodgers franchise leader in saves, Kenley Jansen, left to join the Atlanta Braves in free agency, the team didn’t have a clear replacement.

For awhile, the general idea was it would be a committee of bullpen arms pitching in the ninth, depending on situational matchups. However, Kimbrel, was excited about returning to a closing role after pitching in primarily setup situations with the White Sox.

So far, Kimbrel has saved 10 out of 11 opportunities, with his first blown save coming Monday in the 6-5 loss to the Pirates. However, the concern some can say has been his ERA which is currently at 4.80. Monday was the first game in which he only had a narrow one-run lead at Dodger Stadium.

Earlier in the season, Kimbrel did not get the opportunity to pitch in many games. At times, it seemed like he would pitch only once a week because the Dodgers were scoring so many runs.

In 15 innings pitched this year, Kimbrel has allowed eight runs and six walks. His WHIP is at 1.40 and his opponents have a batting average of .246 against him.

While Kimbrel has only blown one save, the concern with fans has been that he’s made the game closer than it needs to be, giving Dodger fans mini heart attacks.

The only pitcher with saves on the Dodgers right now is Daniel Hudson with three saves; not to forget that the Dodgers have a good amount of arms still on the injured list, such as Blake Treinen and Tommy Kahnle.

If Kimbrel continues to pitch the way he has, it may be tough having him close games deeper into the season. Yes, he has only one blown save on his record, but the way he has pitched, it may be harder to see him as the closer going forward.

However, Kimbrel is a veteran and has pitched in many high stakes games. There isn’t a reason he can’t figure it out. In 2021, he spent the season in Chicago, the first half with the Cubs and then later getting traded to the White Sox. With the Cubs his ERA was 0.49, but with the White Sox it skyrocketed to 5.09.

This is Kimbrel’s third team in just two seasons, and he’s been traded twice in the last year. If needed, the Dodgers do have other viable options to close games such as Hudson, Brusdar Graterol, and even Yency Almonte. Not to mention, they’ll get Treinen back at some point as well. Come postseason time, the Dodgers could use different approaches such as having Urias in high level situations or even bringing back Dustin May in a similar way if he is healthy.

We’ll just have to wait and see now, if Kimbrel is going to get these blown saves out of his system better now than later in the season, but it is still a young season and he can very much figure it out the rest of the way.

The Dodgers look to get back in the win column Tuesday, after dropping the first game of the series to the Pirates. Pittsburgh is 3-1 against the Dodgers so far this season, and Julio Urias will get the start with a 2.49 ERA for the Dodgers.

In his last start, Urias went six innings and allowed only one run against the Nationals, but still received the loss as the Dodgers were shutout. The Pirates still have not announced their starter.

First pitch is at 7:10 p.m. Pacific.

5 thoughts on “Can Craig Kimbrel Hold Down Closer Role for Remainder of Season?

  1. Kimbrel has a very inconsistent history. Far more good than bad, but when he’s bad he’s really bad.
    I’m not overly concerned with what we’ve seen so far, but if he continues to pitch this way, he won’t be the closer come playoff time.

    Jose, you mention the possibility of using Urias in high leverage situations during the playoffs. When he was last used that way, he wasn’t considered one of our aces. I seriously doubt that they would give up the chance to start him multiple times in a series in order to use him in relief.

    I think that Dodger management would still prefer to use Treinen against the strongest part of the opposition’s batting order, no matter what inning that might be (7-9) and not necessarily as the closer. If Kimbrel flames out, the first options for closer would probably be Hudson or Kahnle or possibly even May.

  2. Kimbrel has been very hittable his last couple of outings. It is a concern. I agree with Jeff. Urias is a very effective starter. The Dodgers might have May back by then and an inning every few days will probably be possible. I am a Graterol fan. I don’t like the idea of a “Closer” Graterol, Hudson, Vesia can all step in depending on match up.

  3. I’ve said for many years, that I don’t understand the concept of having your closer pitching the 9th inning exclusively. I want him pitching in pressure situations and more often then naught, that is not the ninth inning. No pressure in the ninth inning unless you cause it ie Kimberly. Lots of pressure in the 7th or8th with runners on first and third one away in a one run game. Or the heart of the order coming up in the 8th. I’m sure someone will look it up, but I’m betting in kimbrel’s10 saves, he hasn’t seen the tying or winning runners on base while he was warming up, more than 2/3 times

    1. This is why your closer isn’t necessarily your best reliever. When healthy, Treinen is our best reliever and Doc uses him the way you described. High pressure situations.

      It’s possible that Kimbrel is not suited to that role and that’s why he’s the closer and not the “high pressure guy”.

      1. Well doc’s not that smart jeff. He keeps hoping Kimbrel is the answer and the last 10 years Jansen was the answer. And which teams best reliever is not their closer? Uh not counting the Dodgers but they are still hoping

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