Kimbrel after blown save: 'It's time for me to turn it around'

August 17th, 2022

MILWAUKEE – Craig Kimbrel is one of the most accomplished closers of all time, ranking seventh in career saves with 392. But his first season with the Dodgers has been anything but smooth.

Kimbrel came into Tuesday’s game having not recorded a clean inning since July 13, 11 appearances ago. That’s not ideal for any reliever, especially not for one tasked with shutting the door.

On Tuesday, Kimbrel’s struggles continued as the right-hander suffered his fourth blown save of the season in the Dodgers’ 5-4 loss to the Brewers in 11 innings at American Family Field.

“It’s tremendously frustrating,” Kimbrel said following the loss. “This whole year really, I’ve felt like I’ve been battling. Not necessarily the other team, but myself. … I just think in the last 40-something innings, it’s been very frustrating. It’s time for me to turn it around, and I’m going to.”

With the Dodgers clinging to a one-run lead in the 11th and the Brewers starting with the automatic runner on second, Kimbrel was welcomed by a leadoff bunt single from Hunter Renfroe, who is far more known for his power than his ability to bunt.

After striking out Kolten Wong on a full count, Kimbrel walked Luis Urías to load the bases and put the winning run into scoring position. Five pitches later, Victor Caratini walked off against Kimbrel and the Dodgers with a bloop single that landed in front of Mookie Betts in right field.

“When I got out there on the mound, I feel like I’m going to do my job every time and I have the confidence to throw my pitches. It’s just not working out,” Kimbrel said. “Like I said, it’s going to change. It has to.”

Despite Kimbrel’s struggles this season, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has repeatedly said he isn’t considering a change in the closer’s role. The Dodgers continue to hope that Kimbrel will eventually turn it around, though time is running short. Roberts cited better pitches from Kimbrel over the past few outings.

“I think that’s some of the noise that I have to drown out and just see how the ball is coming out, see the execution,” Roberts said. “The command is considerably better tonight. He was striking the breaking ball. The result is not what any of us wanted, but I’m not going to just go by results alone if I believe that the stuff is good, the process is good.”

Outside of Kimbrel, the Dodgers did enough to win a game. They hit three solo home runs and the bullpen was stellar, Kimbrel aside. Chris Taylor made another ridiculous catch in Milwaukee, this time a game-saving leaping grab in the 10th inning.

They also made enough mistakes to lose. The most costly was a Joey Gallo baserunning blunder in the 10th inning, preventing the Dodgers from a potentially bigger inning.

“Bad baserunning play,” Roberts said. “Ball is in front of you, and you know that if the ball is in front of you, you got to retreat and get back, stay in scoring position. Something that shouldn’t happen, but it did and we just got to learn from it.”

Even with the loss, the Dodgers remain the only 80-win team in the Majors and hold a 17-game lead over the Padres in the NL West. All of their decisions moving forward will be with the postseason in mind. Over the next six weeks, they’ll need to decide just how Kimbrel fits into their plans.

When the Dodgers acquired Kimbrel from the White Sox in exchange for AJ Pollock, they hoped the right-hander was exactly what they needed to round out their bullpen. But four months into the season, relievers like Evan Phillips and Yency Almonte have continued to rise. Kimbrel, on the other hand, has been shaky.

In his four save attempts this season with a one-run lead, Kimbrel has failed to convert the save in each of them. Those are the types of games the Dodgers will need to lock up in October. Will it be Kimbrel in those situations? The Dodgers remain committed to finding out.