As Los Angeles Dodgers fans well remember, the front office made a somewhat surprising trade right before the season started, in which they sent outfielder AJ Pollock to the Chicago White Sox, straight up, for Craig Kimbrel.
As of this point in the season, the trade hasn’t really worked out in the way either team would have hoped. Pollock is only batting .243 with seven homers, and saw some time on the injured list. And Dodger fans now are worried every time that Kimbrel comes into the game in a save situation.
Kimbrel most recently blew the Dodger’s one run lead in the 10th inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. In fact, Kimbrel has blown all four of the one run leads his team has given him, two of which were in extra innings with the ghost runner at second.
After Tuesday’s game, manager Dave Roberts said, still, that he isn’t worried. Roberts “felt Craig threw the baseball just fine tonight.”
Roberts went on to add, “The result is not what any of us wanted, but I’m not gonna just go by results alone, if I believe that the stuff is good, the process is good.”
When asked about his performance after the game, Kimbrel told reporters that he knows he needs to do better, and feels like he has been taking himself all season. He also said that he’s confident that he will turn things around. “It’s gonna change. It has to”, he stated.
In Tuesday’s game, the Brewers put together a bunt hit, a walk, and a bleeder that scored the tying and go ahead runs. Not exactly power hitting, but it doesn’t really matter how you win the game. Kimbrel’s command of the strike zone has been what has been hindering him all season. As a closer, especially with a ghost runner, you cannot allow a batter to reach base.
The Dodgers have a commanding 17 game lead in the NL West, so the team can give Kimbrel plenty of leeway to work out his command issues. While that might exasperate fans, it could be the best possible scenario. What the team needs is to see who will be the best option as closer come playoff time.
In that vein, the Dodgers will see a few relievers returning to the bullpen very soon. Blake Treinen had his second rehab outing at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He induced fly out and groundout, allowed a single after an error, then got a called strikeout to end the inning. He threw two cutters that averaged 92.5, five sliders that sat around 82-83 mph, and nine sinkers that ranged from 93-96 mph. Treinen threw a total of 17 pitches with 12 being strikes.
Flame thrower Brusdar Graterol is also working towards his return. In his last rehab outing also with Oklahoma City, he retired the side on 11 pitches. His sinker maxed out at 100.4 mph, and his slider maxed out at 93.4 mph.
At the beginning of the season, Roberts had said that Treinen was not going to be used as the closer, but in the most high leverage situations. When Treinen does return, will the same still hold true? Or if Kimbrel still can’t quite get it together, will Evan Phillips move towards the closer’s role? Phillips has been dominate this season, usually in the high leverage spots, allowing only four runs in the 47 games he’s appeared in.
As the Dodgers move closer to the playoffs, the pitching of the relievers will work itself out. It just remains to be seen whether the team Kimbrel gets himself together, or if the team turns to a closer by committee, maybe even incorporating pitchers that were once starters, like they did with Julio Urías in the 2020 World Series. Stay tuned.