Kimbrel 'frustrated,' eager to prove himself in final stretch

Veteran reliever walks in deciding run in Dodgers' walk-off loss in 10th

September 28th, 2022

SAN DIEGO – Craig Kimbrel sat by his locker, phone in hand as he watched video of his outing. He was trying to figure out what went wrong with his mechanics.

Unfortunately for the Dodgers and the right-hander, that has been a much-too-familiar scene following games. Finding answers to a growing list of questions has been a difficult task for Kimbrel this season.

Kimbrel’s performance in the Dodgers’ 4-3 loss to the Padres in 10 innings at Petco Park was the latest episode in his season-long struggles. The veteran reliever walked three, including a game-winning bases-loaded walk to Jorge Alfaro that ultimately cost Los Angeles the game.

“I was just yanking the ball,” Kimbrel said. “Frustrated. That’s all I can say.”

Kimbrel’s outing got off to a strong start on Tuesday, giving the Dodgers some initial encouragement. After an intentional walk to Juan Soto to put runners at the corners with one out, Kimbrel located a pair of four-seam fastballs up in the zone to get All-Star and MVP candidate Manny Machado out swinging.

In the next at-bat, Kimbrel was set up perfectly against Brandon Drury. He was one strike away from extending the game into the 11th inning. Instead, Kimbrel lost Drury, walking him on a four-seam fastball that wasn’t near the zone.

That loaded up the bases for Alfaro, who is known as a free swinger. Kimbrel also had Alfaro on the ropes, getting him into a two-strike count. However, Kimbrel wasn’t able to execute a pair of fastballs, ultimately walking Alfaro on a non-competitive 3-2 four-seam fastball.

Alfaro had walked just 10 times before Tuesday’s game. He expressed genuine shock to his teammates after drawing the game-winning free pass. A competitive pitch to Alfaro might’ve extended the game. The issue is that Kimbrel’s misses this season have been balls right out of the hand.

“I thought that Machado at-bat, it was exactly where [his stuff] needed to be,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “And it was a big spot where he needed a punchout against a very good ballplayer. I know he’s frustrated, but we have to keep going.”

Despite his extended struggles, the Dodgers didn’t decide to take Kimbrel off the closer role until just a few days ago. It was the first time all season that Roberts’ confidence in Kimbrel wavered even in the slightest.

The Dodgers have to make a decision on which role makes sense for Kimbrel. He’ll have a few more outings before the end of the regular season. Kimbrel will have to show improvement, and quickly, or his spot on the postseason roster might be up for grabs.

“I think I’ve got some good pitching to do in the next couple days to prove that,” Kimbrel said. “I think -- I know I can. I don’t think I can. I know I can. I just gotta do it.”

Kimbrel’s command issues ultimately sealed the game for the Padres, but it was hardly the only thing the Dodgers struggled with.

Justin Turner had a pair of misplays at third base, including an error on a Brandon Drury dribbler that helped the Padres take a 3-2 lead in the eighth. In that same frame, Chris Taylor had a line drive bounce off his glove that allowed Aaron Nola to open the inning with a leadoff double, though there’s an argument to be made that Taylor deserved an error.

Offensively, the Dodgers weren’t much better. They had plenty of chances against left-hander Blake Snell, but weren’t able to get the big hit. Los Angeles got a pair of runs against the San Diego bullpen, but not enough. In the end, they went 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position and left 14 men on base.

“It was a little sloppy, but it happens sometimes,” said Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner, who was a bright spot with three hits. “You gotta take advantage of the mistakes that they give you and you’ve got to limit the mistakes you give them. It’s just one of those games that’s a little messy, a little sloppy, but we’ll pick it up and get back after it tomorrow.”