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Dodgers Dugout: A closer look at the misadventures of Craig Kimbrel

Sandy Koufax stands next to his statue on Saturday.
Sandy Koufax stands next to his statue Saturday at Dodger Stadium.
(Jon SooHoo / Dodgers)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and the Dodgers unveiled the statue of Sandy Koufax in the center-field plaza Saturday. Many people ask how Koufax would fare in today’s game, and my answer is always the same: He’d be a slightly above-average pitcher. Of course, keep in mind he is 86 years old.

So, for the last two or three seasons, there has been a subset of Dodger fans who called for the banishment of Kenley Jansen. Didn’t want him on the team. Didn’t want him to be closer if he was on the team and were relieved the Dodgers did not re-sign him in the offseason.

Now, many of that same subset would love to have Jansen back.

Especially after Sunday, when current closer Craig Kimbrel gave up two runs in the ninth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Cleveland Guardians.

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To put it mildly, Kimbrel has been less than stellar in his recent outings. But first, let’s compare him with Jansen this season:

Kimbrel: 0-3, 4.71 ERA, 21 IP, 22 hits, 11 walks, 33 strikeouts, 1.571 WHIP, 33.3% IRS% (1 of 3 inherited runners have scored), 12 saves, 1 blown save

Jansen: 4-0, 3.04 ERA, 29.2 IP, 19 hits, 8 walks, 41 strikeouts, 0.910 WHIP, 100% IRS% (3 of 3), 18 saves, 3 blown saves

In fairness, you could point out that the Dodgers never should have been in a tie game in the ninth Sunday if not for the misadventures of Eddy Alvarez in right field, but either way, Kimbrel’s job is to keep the score tied, and he didn’t do it.

And that led to a massive outcry of “Replace Kimbrel” in my inbox and on social media.

The logical candidate to replace him would be Blake Treinen, but he’s hurt and there’s no timeline for his return. The next obvious candidate is Daniel Hudson, who got a blown save Sunday for giving up the hit that allowed the tying run to score. His ERA for the game was zero, showing why a low ERA for a reliever can be misleading.

But let’s look at Hudson this season:

Hudson: 2-3, 2.35 ERA, 23 IP, 16 hits, 5 walks, 29 strikeouts, 0.913 WHIP, 16.7% IRS% (1 of 6 inherited runners have scored), 5 saves, 1 blown save

On May 13, Kimbrel had five saves and a 1.04 ERA. The Dodgers were scoring so many runs at the time that save opportunities were few and far between. He pitched May 13 after six days of inactivity and pitched a scoreless inning. After that, the wheels came off.

May 16 vs. Arizona: Kimbrel enters in the top of the ninth with a 5-2 lead. He gets a strikeout, then gives up a single to Josh Rojas and a home run to David Peralta before retiring the final two batters. Dodgers win 5-4. Kimbrel gets a save.

May 17 vs. Arizona: Kimbrel comes in in the top of the ninth inning with a 7-5 lead. He walks the leadoff batter and then strikes out two. The runner takes second base on defensive indifference, moves to third on a balk and scores on Ketel Marte‘s single. A strikeout ends the game. Dodgers win 7-6. Kimbrel gets a save.

May 20 at Philadelphia: With the Dodgers leading 4-1, Kimbrel comes into the game in the bottom of the ninth with a man on second and two outs. He gives up a single to Johan Camargo before striking out Odubel Herrera to end the game. Dodgers win 4-1. Kimbrel gets a save.

May 21 at Philadelphia: Kimbrel comes in to pitch the bottom of the ninth with the Dodgers leading 7-4. He retires the side in order. Dodgers win 7-4. Kimbrel gets a save.

May 27 at Arizona: Kimbrel pitches the bottom of the ninth with a 6-2 lead. He gives up a single and a walk. Rojas doubles to score one. Marte pops out, Christian Walker hits a sacrifice fly and Peralta grounds out to end the game. Dodgers win 6-4. It wasn’t a save situation, so no save for Kimbrel.

May 29 at Arizona: Kimbrel pitches the ninth with the Dodgers leading 3-0. He strikes out Geraldo Perdomo, hits Alex Thomas and gets Daulton Varsho on a flyout. Peralta triples in Thomas, and Cooper Hummel strikes out to end the game. Dodgers win 3-1. Kimbrel gets the save.

May 30 vs. Pittsburgh: Kimbrel pitches the ninth with the Dodgers leading 6-5. He gets an out and then walks Diego Castillo, who moves to second on a wild pitch. Castillo scores on Michael Perez‘s single, with Perez taking second on the throw home. Calvin Mitchell reaches first on Freddie Freeman‘s error, which allows Perez to score. Kimbrel strikes out the next two batters. Dodgers lose 6-5. First and only blown save for Kimbrel. He also gets the loss.

June 2 vs. New York Mets: Kimbrel pitches the ninth with the Dodgers leading 2-0. He retires the side in order, with one strikeout. Dodgers win 2-0. Kimbrel gets the save.

June 5 vs. New York: Kimbrel comes in to pitch the top of the 10th with the score 4-4. J.D. Davis gets a leadoff double to drive in the “ghost” runner from second. A strikeout and a double play end the inning. Dodgers lose 5-4. Kimbrel gets the loss.

June 11 at San Francisco: With the Dodgers trailing 3-1, Kimbrel comes in to pitch the bottom of the eighth. He gives up a single, a wild pitch and two walks to load the bases. A wild pitch while Brandon Crawford is batting scores a runner, and Kimbrel is removed after striking out Crawford. That run proves important when the Dodgers score once in the top of the ninth. Dodgers lose 3-2. Loss goes to Clayton Kershaw.

June 14 vs. Angels: Leading 2-0, Kimbrel comes in to pitch the ninth. He strikes out Taylor Ward, then gives up a single to Mike Trout and a double to Shohei Ohtani. Matt Duffy walks to load the bases, then Kimbrel strikes out Jared Walsh and Max Stassi to end the game. Dodgers win 2-0. Kimbrel gets the save.

June 15 vs. Angels: Dodgers lead 4-0 when Kimbrel comes in to pitch in the ninth with one out and a man on third (this is the Tyler Anderson near no-hitter game). Kimbrel gives up a single to Duffy, then strikes out Walsh and Brandon Marsh to end the game. Dodgers win 4-1. It wasn’t a save situation, so no save for Kimbrel.

June 19 vs. Cleveland: Dodgers and Guardians are tied 3-3 when Kimbrel starts the ninth. After a strikeout, he gives up a walk, a double and an intentional walk to load the bases. A single and sacrifice fly later, the Guardians lead by two. Dodgers lose 5-3. Kimbrel gets the loss.

Kimbrel in that span: 0-3, 7 saves, 1 blown save, 12.1 IP. 15 hits, 8 walks, 24 K’s. 7.30 ERA.

So, there you go. Even most of the games he has saved have been, politely, interesting.

Kimbrel has pitched in 13 games during that span, and has had five clean games with no runs given up, four games with one run given up and four games with two runs given up. And overwork hasn’t been an issue. He has pitched four times with no days of rest, once with one day, five times with two days’ rest, one with three days’ rest, and twice with five days’ rest.

The Cubs traded Kimbrel to the Chicago White Sox on July 30, 2021. He was 2-3 with 23 saves and an 0.49 ERA. Since then, he is 2-5 with 13 saves and a 4.91 ERA.

So what to do? It’s time to give Kimbrel a mental break and put him in some low-pressure situations and give Hudson a shot. When you see Kimbrel pitch, it looks like, “OK, I’m throwing the ball now but have no idea where it’s going! Good luck, everyone!” Which isn’t ideal for a closer.

Don’t look for an imminent change at closer, though. Manager Dave Roberts: “I think we’re a ways from that point. Obviously, we’ve used [Daniel] Hudson, [Evan] Phillips and [Brusdar] Graterol in different roles. But as far as specifically the closer, Craig is our closer.”

Kimbrel on his struggles: “I’m not necessarily giving up a lot of hard-hit balls. But when you’re walking guys and then giving up singles or balls that aren’t hit so hard, they’re going to score. Seems like I’ve had quite a few outings where that’s happened.”

Mookie’s out

The Dodgers put Mookie Betts on the injured list because of a cracked rib, and the expectation is he will be back in a couple of weeks. Of course, if you have ever had a cracked or broken rib, you know how painful it is and how long the pain can last. Betts is going to play major league baseball when he comes back. After two weeks of my cracked rib, I was still saying: “I don’t really need to get out of bed today. Where’s the Advil?”

Judging by the fact they put Alvarez in right field Sunday, the Dodgers don’t really have a great replacement for Betts. Kevin Pillar would have worked, but he’s out for the season. The only other outfielder listed on their 40-man roster is James Outman (great name for a hitter). But there appears to be help on the way. The Dodgers acquired outfielder Trayce Thompson from the Detroit Tigers for cash considerations.

Thompson played for the Dodgers from 2016 to 2017, hitting .207/.287/.407 with 14 homers in 285 at-bats. Since then, he has played for Oakland, both Chicago teams and San Diego and has hit .139/.209/.282. He has continued to crush the ball in the minors, hitting .305/.365/.721 in triple A this season. Of course, Billy Ashley also crushed the ball in the minors. Roberts said Sunday that the Dodgers are exploring “external” options to add a right-handed-hitting reinforcement, and Thompson is the first up on the list apparently. Outman hits left-handed, but I’d give him a chance. He’s hitting ,288/.391/.545 in double-A Tulsa and is solid defensively.

Dustin May

Dustin May, out since May of last season because of Tommy John surgery, threw off the mound at Dodger Stadium on Saturday in an encouraging sign of his progress. May is expected to face live hitters Friday for the first time since his surgery. If he continues to clear rehabilitation hurdles, he could begin a minor league assignment in mid-July.

If the Dodgers get May back in August and he pitches anywhere near what he did before he was injured, it will be just like acquiring a starter at the trade deadline.

Extra innings

The Dodgers went to extra innings Friday against the Guardians, which of course guarantees a loss. The Dodgers are 0-5 in extra-inning games this season and were 6-13 last season, making them 6-18 the last two seasons. Here are the best and worst records in extra innings since the start of the 2021 season:

Five best
St. Louis, 11-4, .733
New York Mets, 16-7, .696
Seattle, 18-9, .667
New York Yankees, 14-9, .609
Oakland, 8-5, .600

Five worst
Washington, 3-14, .176
Dodgers, 6-18, .250
Toronto, 5-11, .313
Atlanta, 7-13, .350
Angels, 5-8, .285

NL West
San Francisco, 15-11, .577
San Diego, 14-11, .560
Colorado, 11-12, .478
Arizona, 9-12, .429
Dodgers, 6-18, .250

Looked at another way, the Giants have picked up eight games in the standings on the Dodgers the last two seasons just on their record in extra-inning games.

We’ll examine this more closely in a future newsletter.

What Sandy said

As mentioned above, the Sandy Koufax statue was unveiled Saturday, taking its place alongside the Jackie Robinson statue. Koufax was on hand, and here’s what he had to say after the Dodgers played a video paying tribute to him:

“I think the film said everything I wanted to say, so I’ll be leaving now. (laughs)

“Sixty-seven years ago, Jackie Robinson became my teammate and friend. At that time, sharing this space with him would have been absolutely unimaginable. And today it still is. It’s one of the great honors of my life. I’m also honored to have two very good friends here. Clayton [Kershaw] and Joe [Torre], thank you for being here. Thank you for the kind words. It’s been fun knowing you both.

“Conventional wisdom has always said, ‘Don’t give an old man a microphone, he’s got too many years to talk about.’ I’m going to start way back at the beginning. In high school, my life was all about basketball, I didn’t even know baseball existed. After my senior [year] of basketball was over, I decided I’m going out for the baseball team because my best friend was their best pitcher, Fred Wilpon.

“So I said, OK, I’m going out for baseball. They had two other good pitchers, so I ended up either in right field or at first base, wherever. But our catcher was Walter Laurie, whose father, Milton, ran a sandlot baseball team. He was at our practices and games sometimes. I have to thank him, I think he started this journey here. He asked me to come pitch for his team, and I didn’t know what the hell pitching was basically, but I said OK. He worked for the old Journal American newspaper, and on game days his delivery van became the team bus. Without him, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

“The next year, I went to the University of Cincinnati. I wasn’t a walk-on, I was invited to come. I didn’t have a scholarship. I made the team, I wasn’t a starter, I wasn’t great, I wasn’t bad. But the freshman coach was Ed Junker, who was also the baseball coach. The baseball team was going to New Orleans, and I decided I wanted to go to New Orleans. So I volunteered. Freshmen weren’t eligible, so on that trip, I pitched against an Air Force base and during the season I pitched two nonconference games.

“And so with that great amount of experience, that winter I signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Which was even more surprising than the thought of playing for the New York Knicks. But I went to spring training at Vero Beach with absolutely no clue of what to do. The only reason I was in the big leagues was they’d come up with a new rule to deter teams from giving out bonuses. If they gave you more than $4,000 to sign, you had to spend the next two years in the major leagues.

“My presence on the roster wasn’t a happy experience for a lot of people. You took other people’s jobs, maybe you took somebody else’s job. But Jackie went out of his way to make me feel welcome, and I’ll never forget his kindness on that. The team was pretty special in 1955. To think that five guys on that team are now in the HOF and one more should be. Don Newcombe was probably the outstanding pitcher of that time, and Don took me aside right away and said, ‘Pitching is hard work. If you aren’t working hard, and are making it easy, you aren’t doing it right.’ I believe that and I lived by that.

“The Dodgers’ success in the ‘50s and the early ‘60s has the fingerprints of so many people on it. It’s hard to describe how so many of them performed so well to put us in a position to play on a grand stage, the World Series.

“The list of people is incredibly long, but I’m going to go through some as quickly as I can: My first pitching coach Joe Becker, he believed in me from the start and I’ve never figured out why. My second pitching coach, Lefty Phillips. My manager, Walter Alston, he was my only manager. I’m not sure if he was happy with me as a bonus player, but we came to have a pretty good relationship through the years. All my roommates, Doug Camilli, Dick Tracewski, Norm Sherry, Carl Furillo. When you spend so many hours in one room, you become like family.

“Most of all I thank my teammates, all of them. All the catchers. There is a special relationship between pitchers and catchers. John Roseboro, basically my catcher most of the time, our relationship was incredible. Never any doubt, when I looked in at the signs, really where I wanted to throw, John didn’t create any doubt in my mind.

“Our all-switch-hitting infield, Jim Lefebvre, Wes Parker, Jim Gilliam, Maury Wills, they were great defensively. Jim Gilliam played anywhere you needed him. Maury Wills came up in the middle of 1959 and made himself through sheer will the most potent offensive player in the game. Every base hit, every walk, was a double or triple.

Willie Davis, with his speed, ran down all your mistakes. Tommy Davis was one of the outstanding hitters of his time. You look at his numbers in 1962 when he batted. .346 with an incredible 153 RBIs. He was great. It’s just hard to remember everybody. We had two relievers: In 1963 Ron Perranoski was 16-3 in relief, and in 1966 Phil Regan was 13-1 in relief. So they weren’t pitching one inning of relief, they were pitching quite a few.

“And all the other guys who sat in the left-field bullpen. Our starting pitchers Johnny Podres, Carl Erskine, Joe Moeller, Don Sutton — the Dodgers only 300-game winner — and, of course, Don Drysdale. We were together 11 years and grew up together. We were friends, but I think in some ways we were competitors because he set a standard of excellence I tried to live up to and I had an excellence he tried to live up to. And I think it made us both better.

“I can’t forget Al Ferrara because he’s from Brooklyn. ... Frank Howard, not much to say about him except some of the balls he hit may still be going.

“Our trainers Bill Buhler and Wayne Anderson did their best to keep us on the field. Inside the clubhouse, our equipment manager and also good friend was Nobe Kawano. Vin Scully, well, there’s a lot of talk these days about the greatest of all time. GOAT used to be a bad thing, now it’s greatest of all time. Well, that’s the end of the discussion. Vin Scully is the greatest of all time. No discussion. It’s him. The O’Malleys were great owners who did their best to make our lives as comfortable as possible.

“I think my only regret today is that so many are no longer with us and I’m unable to let them know how much I thank them and appreciated them. Thank you to all the fans who treated me so well, and tell them how lucky they are to have such a competitive team to root for for so many years. Andrew Friedman and his staff, and the owners who made this team possible ... and my other favorite No. 32, Magic Johnson.

“For all of you who came out, thank you. To my family and friends ... I love you one and all. I’m done.”

These names seem familiar

A look at how players who were with the Dodgers last season are doing this season for other teams (through Sunday):

Matt Beaty, Padres, .108/.175/.189, 7 OPS+, on IL with a shoulder injury

Josiah Gray, Nationals, 6-4, 3.95 ERA, 68.1 IP, 54 hits, 32 walks, 73 K’s

Kenley Jansen, Braves, 3-0, 3.04 ERA, 29.2 IP, 19 hits, 8 walks, 41 strikeouts,18 saves

Joe Kelly, White Sox, 0-1, 8.10 ERA, 6.2 IP, 8 hits, 6 walks, 10 K’s

Corey Knebel, Phillies, 2-5, 3.62 ERA, 27.1 IP, 23 hits, 19 walks, 25 K’s, 11 saves

Sheldon Neuse, A’s, .228/.291/.305, 77 OPS+, in minors

AJ Pollock, White Sox, .261/.298/.403, 100 OPS+

Albert Pujols, Cardinals, .202/.305/.349, 89 OPS+

Jake Reed, Mets, 1-0, 16.62 ERA, 4.1 IP, 4 hits, 6 walks, 4 K’s, back in minors

Zach Reks, Rangers, .265/.265/.294, 63 OPS+

Keibert Ruiz, Nationals, .254/.315/.345, 92 OPS+

Dennis Santana, Rangers, 3-2, 1.38 ERA, 26 IP, 13 hits, 6 walks, 18 Ks, one save

Max Scherzer, Mets, 5-1, 2.54 ERA, 49.2 IP, 36 hits, 11 walks, 59 Ks, on 15-day IL with strained left oblique

Corey Seager, Rangers, .230/.305/.440, 114 OPS+

Yoshi Tsutsugo, Pirates, 113 at-bats, .177/.281/.257, 56 OPS+, on the 10-day IL

Edwin Uceta, Diamondbacks, 0-0, 5.00 ERA, 9 IP, 7 hits, 4 walks, 4 Ks, back in minors

Andrew Vasquez, Blue Jays, 0-0, 8.10 ERA, 6.2 IP, 6 hits, 3 walks, 6 Ks, on 15-day IL

Up next

Today: Dodgers (Tony Gonsolin, 8-0, 1.42 ERA) at Cincinnati (Tyler Mahle, 2-5, 4.46 ERA), 3:30 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020

Wednesday: Dodgers (*Tyler Anderson, 8-0, 2.82 ERA), at Cincinnati (Luis Castillo, 2-4, 3.33 ERA), 3:30 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020

Thursday: Dodgers (*Clayton Kershaw, 4-1, 2.08 ERA), at Cincinnati (Hunter Greene, 3-7, 5.26 ERA), 9:30 a.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020

*-left-handed

Stories you might have missed

Hernández: Mookie Betts injury exposes the harsh realities of the Dodgers’ top-heavy lineup

Guide for attending the MLB All-Star game and related events in L.A.

What Sandy Koufax, Clayton Kershaw and Joe Torre said at Koufax’s statue unveiling

Plaschke: Sandy Koufax statue unveiling ceremony a time of gratitude and inclusion

And finally

The Sandy Koufax statue unveiling ceremony. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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