Inconsistent Craig Kimbrel will no longer serve as the Dodgers’ closer

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) walks off the pitchers mound.

Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel walks off the mound during a game against the Miami Marlins on Aug. 30. (Marta Lavandier / Associated Press)

Craig Kimbrel is no longer the Dodgers‘ closer.

There. Dave Roberts said so Friday. Finally.

The words came haltingly, with thoughtful pauses, but they came.

“I just think that right now, um, I’m going to keep Craig down tonight,” Roberts said. “And my expectation is, yeah, I talked to him today. Right now the plan is to change roles and get him into a position to pitch in different innings in different situations.

“He was very open to doing whatever is best for the ballclub. So I feel good about it and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Kimbrel gave up a home run in the ninth inning Thursday that put the Arizona Diamondbacks ahead by a run. The Dodgers won in the bottom of the inning on Mookie Betts’ walk-off single, which gave Kimbrel the win.

But Kimbrel, 34, has blown five of 27 save opportunities and has a 4.14 ERA in 57 appearances this season. He is seventh all-time with 394 saves in 13 seasons and led the league in saves four consecutive years ending in 2014.

Perhaps that’s why Roberts and the Dodgers front office stuck with him so long even though his effectiveness had obviously diminished from his heyday.

Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday.Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday.

Dodgers relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Roberts said he appreciated the way Kimbrel took the news that he was no longer the closer.

“He’s such a professional and knows that there is more there, more consistency, just the openness to do what’s best,” he said. “My job is to find the best lane for him and he has no worries of changing the routine from something he’s always done. He looks at it as a challenge. That’s the way we would expect it and it speaks a lot to him as a team player.”

Roberts said no one reliever will assume the closer role for now. 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 of our guys, putting them in the best position to get outs,” Roberts said. “That’s kind of how I’m going to approach every 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 clearly is in line for closer duty, although his value has been putting out fires regardless of the inning.

Also, he has only three career saves, two this season. Phillips said he wouldn’t treat the ninth inning differently than any other.

I think the best thing you can do as the guy coming out to finish the game is to provide consistency throughout the season,” he said.

The Dodgers, however, face a situation where, if a closer-by-committee approach fails, a new closer must emerge with the postseason beginning in two weeks. Phillips didn’t sound like he would be fazed.

“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 there and get your outs. So regardless of the situation, and it might be the ninth inning or a tight ballgame, however you want to phrase it, my challenge is that when the phone rings, I do my job.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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