Craig Kimbrel is no longer the Dodgers’ supervisor.
Over there. That’s what Dave Roberts said on Friday. Finally.
The words came falteringly, with thoughtful pauses, but they came.
“I just think I’m going to hold Craig down tonight,” Roberts said. “And my expectation is, yes, I spoke to him today. Right now the plan is to switch roles and put him in a position to pitch in different innings in different situations.
“He was very open to doing what’s best for the ball club. So I feel good about it and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Kimbrel gave up a homerun in the ninth inning on Thursday to give the Arizona Diamondbacks a run ahead. The Dodgers won in the bottom of the inning on Mookie Betts’ walk-off single, which gave Kimbrel the win.
But Kimbrel, 34, has lost five of 27 saves and has a 4.14 ERA in 57 appearances this season. Only 12.1% of his pitches are missed, roughly the competition average. Still, he is seventh all-time with 394 saves in 13 seasons and led the league in saves for four consecutive years ending in 2014.
Perhaps that’s why Roberts and the Dodgers front office stuck with him for so long, even though his effectiveness had clearly declined since his heyday.
Roberts said he appreciated the way Kimbrel took the news that he was no longer the closest.
“He’s such a professional and knows there’s more, more consistency, just the openness to do what’s best,” he said. “My job is to find him the best job and he doesn’t have to worry about changing the routine from something he’s always done. He sees it as a challenge. That’s what we would expect and it really appeals to him as a team player.”
Roberts said no reliever will be taking on the closer role for the time being. Evan Phillips (6-3, 1.24 ERA), Brusdar Graterol (2-3, 2.96) and Alex Vesia (4-0, 2.26) are the obvious candidates.
“No, for us it’s finding, it’s treating him like we treat all our guys, putting them in the best position to get out,” Roberts said. “That’s kind of how I’m going to approach each inning for the ‘pen’.
Phillips, 28, has been the undisputed top reliever all season, giving up just 29 hits in 58 innings, while striking out 68 and walking 14. He’s clearly in line for a closer task, though his value has always been to put out fires no matter the inning. .
He also has only three saves in his career, two this season. Phillips said he wouldn’t treat the ninth inning any differently than any other.
“I think the best thing you can do as the guy who comes out to finish the game is to provide consistency throughout the season,” he said.
However, the Dodgers are faced with a situation where, if a closer approach to the commission fails, a new closer will have to come with the postseason starting in two weeks. Phillips didn’t sound like he’d be startled.
“I don’t really value that role any higher than what I do now,” he said. “I think the [Dodgers] really instilled in us that when the phone rings you go out and get your outs. So whatever the situation, and it could be the ninth inning or a tight game, however you want to put it, my challenge is that when the phone rings, I do my job.”
Kimbrel will likely be used almost exclusively against right-handed batters, hitting .208 with a .603 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against him. Lefties hit .266 with a .786 OPS.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.