The Dodgers eventually ripped the bandage off, but they still have to tend to the festering wound underneath.
After a season of ups and (mostly) downs, former superstar closest Craig Kimbrel was let go on Friday, with manager Dave Roberts announcing a move that seemed inevitable with the veteran right-hander sporting a 4.07 ERA and just 22 saves in 27 opportunities.
Who replaces Kimbrel has suddenly become one of the biggest questions facing the Dodgers, with ninth-inning uncertainty rising to the top of their playoff checklist.
For now, Roberts said it would be a tighter situation by committee. Each night, the save opportunities will be dictated by the matchups and the flow of the game.
For a team that still ranks second in the relief ERA majors – even after Kimbrel’s prolonged lapses – they will present a myriad of intriguing options to evaluate as October approaches.
“I think for us it’s treating him like we treat all of our guys in terms of putting them in the best position to go out,” Roberts said of Kimbrel and the bullpen in general. “That’s kind of how I’m going to approach each round.”
Here’s a look at all of the Dodgers’ ninth-inning options (in no particular order).
2022 season: 1.24 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, two saves
Career saves: three
The most obvious candidate to succeed Kimbrel closer might seem to be Phillips, the right-handed journeyman who thrived in his first full season with the Dodgers.
However, saving the 28-year-old for the ninth inning could come at a cost earlier in games.
With no other key lever relievers this year, Phillips has established himself as the Dodgers’ best coach. Whenever an opposing order’s heart comes to home plate late in the game, Phillips is called out. Every time another pitcher finds himself in a potentially disastrous last-inning jam, Phillips is called out.
A few times this year, Phillips has been called up for backup opportunities in the ninth, having occasionally taken over on nights when Kimbrel was unavailable due to rest.
However, his value in the prep/firefighter role has been — and in the playoffs, will almost certainly continue to be — incalculable.
So while Roberts said on Friday he wouldn’t hesitate in the ninth inning, and while there will likely be nights when saving Phillips for the final three outs might make the most sense, it’s hard to say. imagine the Dodgers bypassing him if big moments come sooner. in games.
2022 season: 2.96 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, three saves
Career saves: three (plus one in the playoffs)
If anyone in the Dodgers bullpen has the kind of raw stuff often associated with ninth-inning dominance, it’s Graterol.
Wielding a triple-digit fastball and ever-improving cut, the 24-year-old right-hander has been touted as a potential closer future since the Dodgers acquired him from the Minnesota Twins ahead of the 2020 season.
After bouts of inconsistency, Graterol appeared to finally make a move before missing nearly a month with an elbow injury, which he finally recovered from earlier this week.
Although Graterol still isn’t hitting as many batters as his electric arsenal would suggest (his 22.4 percent strikeout rate this year is below the league average), he had begun to find other forms of success before his injury.
In 19 appearances between June 8 and August 28, he had a .89 ERA, a .171 batting average against and 18 strikeouts without a walk.
He also has a promising record in October, with a 2.04 career postseason ERA in 18 outings — including a stoppage to clinch the Dodgers’ wildcard round streak against the Milwaukee Brewers in 2020.
2022 season: 2.26 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, one stoppage
Career saves: two
On nights when a string of left-handed hitters are expected in the ninth, Vesia might present the Dodgers’ most attractive option.
Acquired from the Miami Marlins before the start of last season, Vesia became the Dodgers’ best left-hander, using a deceptive fastball-slider combination to post the Dodgers’ best strikeout rate in the bullpen.
Like Phillips, there are times when he could be more valuable earlier in games, when a left-on-left game would make the most sense.
Still, the feisty 26-year-old certainly has the type of energetic demeanor that could translate to ninth-inning success.
2022 season: 4.70 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 0 saves (in eight games)
Career saves: four
Having missed most of the season due to residual effects from Tommy John’s surgery, Kahnle finally returned to the Dodgers’ active roster earlier this week — this time he and the team are hoping all is well.
An eight-year veteran who was part of ALCS runs with the New York Yankees in 2017 and 2019 — including a two-run save in the 2017 playoffs — Kahnle has the kind of experience few have. others in the Dodgers bullpen can match.
Another plus: He’s got the weapons tossed to batters on either side of the plate, thanks to a nasty change that this year — albeit in a small sample — has reported a nearly 40% whiff rate and just a .056 batting average against .
2022 season: 1.80 ERA, 0.40 WHIP, 0 saves (in five games)
Career saves: 79
A former All-Star closer to the Oakland A’s, Treinen might be the most natural candidate to take over in the ninth inning for the Dodgers — if only he were healthy.
The right-hander has missed most of the season with an ailing shoulder which continues to plague him. After briefly recovering from a partially torn shoulder cap earlier this month, Treinen was sidelined again by a lingering tightness. He’s already missed a targeted return date this week and has no guarantees of being ready for the start of the playoffs.
The Dodgers haven’t given up hope that he’ll return — and are immediately rediscovering the kind of dominance that made him perhaps their best reliever in 2021 — but given his season so far, it will be something. something the team will first have to see to truly believe.
Outside of those five arms, there are a few other names for the Dodgers to consider.
Right-hander Chris Martin was called up for a few stoppages over the past month and has excelled with the Dodgers in general since acquiring the Chicago Cubs before the trade deadline — he has a 1.71 ERA in 21 games at Los Angeles. . He also has extensive playoff experience from his time with the Atlanta Braves over the past three seasons.
Southpaw Caleb Ferguson has performed well in his return from Tommy John surgery this year with a 1.97 ERA in 33 games, although he hasn’t displayed the same level of dominance as before the surgery.
Right-hander Yency Almonte had a surprise season – 1.15 ERA in 28 games – before suffering an elbow injury in early August. He’s currently in rehab and is set to return, though it remains to be seen how quickly he’ll return to high-leverage roles upon his return.
Starting pitchers Andrew Heaney and Dustin May could present creative alternatives given the Dodgers’ starting rotation overhang and high strikeout rate this year. However, they are much more likely to be asked to pitch loose innings, either at the start of games or in the middle of innings out of the bullpen.
Finally, Kimbrel is still on the team and Roberts was careful not to outright rule out the possibility that he might have an opportunity to reclaim his spot in the ninth inning.
Still, after so much turbulence this season, it seems unlikely that, even with a flawless end to the regular season, Kimbrel will be able to regain enough stock to be given playoff backup opportunities.