Let’s Talk About the Dodgers Bullpen

If you had told Los Angeles Dodgers fans on Thursday, before the start of the four game series with the San Diego Padres, that the Dodgers would take three of four, most would be incredibly happy with that.

Indeed, that is something to be happy about. The Dodgers increased their lead in the NL West by two games and now are 3.5 games ahead of the Padres.

Sunday’s game was the only loss. Mookie Betts returned to the lineup after having been out dealing with a sore rib and went two-for-three with a run scored. Clayton Kershaw was his vintage self, going seven scoreless innings, striking out eight and walking only one batter.

But the end of Sunday’s matinee game will leave a sour taste in Dodger fans’ mouths for awhile. The Dodgers were up 1-0 in the top of the ninth and Craig Kimbrel entered to close out the game. He struck out Manny Machado, but then on the next batter, took a ball off of his scapula. He stayed in the game, but ended up giving up four runs, and the Padres went on to win the game.

It could be that the hit off his back led him to not pitch well after he was hit. But more likely, he is just not as good as he once was, and becoming a detriment to the bullpen. Since May 15, he has been scored upon more often than not. Sunday was his third blown save in his last seven appearances.

After the game, Manager Dave Roberts said that scans on Kimbrel’s back were negative, and he would be down for a couple days. When he returns, he absolutely will still be the closer, because “he deserves that”.

But should he? Yes, the Dodgers made the choice to send AJ Pollock to the Chicago White Sox to acquire the closer. And yes, he started the season pretty dominant. And yes, the bullpen is a little depleted right now due to injury.

But at the same time, a ‘closer’ is brought in to close out the game. To shut the door. To not even let the other team get on base, let alone score runs.

No closer is infallible, of course. Pitchers are human and have bad days. But with Kimbrel, it seems he is either really good or really bad, and you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. Except lately, it has trended much more towards really bad.

Blake Treinen would be the obvious choice for replacing Kimbrel as closer. That is, once he returns from the injured list. Unfortunately that timetable is still unclear.

“Blake, I was watching throw, he’s really good and it’s close,” Roberts said. “But what that means I can’t even specify right now. But yeah, he’s been tracking really well.”

Until then, perhaps the Dodgers could turn to Evan Phillips. He has been just as dominant so far this season as Treinen has been in past seasons. Caleb Ferguson also is due to return to the bullpen at the end of his IL stint. Dustin May could be deployed as a lethal arm out of the ‘pen as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. While he wouldn’t necessarily be the closer, David Price has looked really good in his last few appearances. And the Dodgers still have returns from David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to look forward to towards the end of the season.

Until then, however, the Dodgers will continue to put Craig Kimbrel out in the ninth inning. If nothing else, the Dodgers and Dave Roberts go above and beyond believing in their players that they will once again regain their form. Let’s just hope that this tactic helps them more than harms.

11 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About the Dodgers Bullpen

  1. Kimbrel was horrible for the White Sox and he is horrible for the Dodgers. Why is it a surprise? What the Dodgers should do is go to a closer by committee. They have Ferguson, Treinen, May and Kahnle coming to help. Attempting to make a pitcher that has lost his edge be the closer u have decided he is despite all the evidence is idiotic. Hopefully the Dodgers will smarten up before Robert’s drives them off a ledge!

  2. I know I’m probably repeating myself here, but I do not want Treinen to be the closer. His role since he got here was to be the high leverage guy, to match up against the best opposition hitters at the time in the game when it’s most important to stop them from scoring. That guy is also good at stranding base runners, whereas some closers, even very good ones, are far better when they start innings clean.

    If we don’t want to use Kimbrel as closer (and that’s fine with me), I think Dustin May could do an excellent job, assuming he comes back with his command intact. It’s also possible that Evan Phillips steps into the role in the next couple of weeks. Even Fergie or Kahnle if they are healthy.

    But save Treinen for high leverage.

    Andy, you mentioned the Dodgers have David Robertson’s return to look forward to. Not sure who you meant to refer to but I know it wasn’t David Robertson. Maybe Victor Gonzalez?

    1. Its a game of stats. The club knows statistically who to use & when. What boggles my mind is they let that idiot Roberts use his “Gut Feeling” part of the time. I agree Treinen should be used against the heart of the opponents batting order. Last night I would have used him in the ninth. But usually whenever the dangerous guys are up.

  3. If Kimbrel isn’t the closer he will pout and suck even harder like he did in Chicago. Personally, I’m getting sick of ballplayers who blame their lack of success on not having a “set role.”

  4. Kimbrel looked great against Machado. Gets hit in back with 100 mph liner and then what? Is his issue all about location? He still has enough speed and quality breaking stuff. I guess another solution would be for the offense to score more, more consistently. Looks like JT has warmed up. That will help.

    1. JT making contact is going to help if he can continue. Smith is getting hot. I am hoping they keep Thompson he can play all outfield positions well and so far is decent with RISP. Bellinger should pay attention to Lux. Make contact!!! Go with the pitch! With the emergence of Lux do they re-sign T Turner??? Urias showed his competitiveness last night. He was out of sync and fighting his mechanics and still allowed just 1 run and pitched over 6 innings. What a stud.

      1. We’ve discussed the upcoming free agency of Bellinger (after next year) and Buehler (after 2024), but haven’t really brought up Urias very much.

        Hard to believe he’s still only 25 (two years younger than Buehler). He’s also a free agent after next year. Not sure we’ll wind up trying to keep both of them. Maybe he’s the keeper.

      2. I think Urias is a keeper as he is a pitcher and doesn’t rely on sheer velocity like Buehler. I think Urias will be very effective longer than Buehler. Urias has an impressive ability to change speeds and angles.

  5. I have to agree TMax. Urias is the clear choice right now if we can only keep one. Fortunately we have plenty of time and more input before we have to make a decision. Unfortunately, Urias has Boras as his agent.

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