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.
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, Brusdar Graterol and Alex Vesia are the most 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.”