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Craig Kimbrel’s near meltdown begs the question: Should Dodgers trade for a closer?

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Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith (left) congratulates relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel.
Dodgers pitcher Craig Kimbrel celebrates with catcher Will Smith after a 5-4 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Friday night. Kimbrel allowed two runs at the end of the ninth but lived to see the save. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Every now and then, Dave Roberts insisted on Dodgers the team has no serious needs Tuesday auction deadline.

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However, on Friday night at Coors Field, they were reminded of one of the biggest challenges they have to solve.

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Although the Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies for the second night in a row, dominant 5-4 behind Will Smith’s first two home runs and Trace Thompson plus a strong seven-inning start from left-hander Julio Urias, the game ended much closer than it should have.

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Tasked to protect the three-way advantage at the end, closer Craig Kimbrel nearly blew another save by giving up two runs in the ninth.

“We’re always evaluating,” Roberts said when asked about Kimbrel after nearly another disastrous performance from the veteran. “He’s closer to us, but performance matters, especially late in the game.”

Despite the late drama, the Dodgers are 67-32. They retained the division lead with 12 games. And since losing in a row in Denver last month, they have won 22 of their last 26 games, including each of the last three and the first two of this four-game streak.

“To win a couple of games” at the start of an eight-game trip, Roberts said, “couldn’t have started better.”

Friday night, however, almost took a turn for the worse.

Leading 5-2 from the third inning, thanks to an impressive start from Urias and a scoreless eighth from setter Evan Phillips, the Dodgers appeared to be safe when Kimbrel entered the game.

The right-hander started the pitch from the groundout, conceded a single to Chris Bryant, but then struck out CJ Cron to put the Dodgers on the cusp of an easy victory.

Brendan Rodgers then bounced off base to the right. José Iglesias drew a full walk to load the bases. And Randal Grichuk drove into two linearly driven singles left, driving the Rockies to within one run.

Facing another full score in the next at-bat, Kimbrel threw an inside fastball that Ryan McMahon cut the other way.

Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urias plays against the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning on Friday.
Dodgers starting pitcher Julio Urias plays against the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning on Friday. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

At first glance, it looked like his rocket might land near the line in left field. But then, at the last second, Thompson flew into a sprint catch – his momentum carried him into the net in front of the stands after reaching the final.

“I feel like I got to know him well, just trying to keep him safe,” Thompson said. “I don’t know if it was the end of the game or something like that, but I didn’t feel like I was rushing to it. Just trying to play.

Although Thompson’s catch saved the Dodgers from victory, he did little to calm the growing questions surrounding Kimbrel.

The future Hall of Famer has converted 18 of 21 save opportunities but also has an average earned run of 4.37 and 1.51 walks plus hits per pitch.

It took him 29 passes to avoid Friday’s jam, once again struggling to land his breaker and find a stable fastball team.

And if Kimbrel had beaten McMahon, Roberts planned to take him out, which he had already done once this month in the middle of a save opportunity.

“I have to watch the movie,” Roberts later said. “But of course, to get three outs and go through about 30 pitches, that’s just not enough, and Craig knows it.”

Asked if the Dodgers would have to tackle a closer role, through a potential trade or an inside candidate, Roberts said the team is constantly evaluating.

“No one knows this better than Craig,” Roberts said. “We as an organization are always trying to get better. I’ve always said it. And he has to keep working on some things to be more effective and more efficient.

“These are just facts.

It is unlikely that the Dodgers will make an expensive purchase of a famous pitcher in the next four days.

Rather, they were mostly connected by trading rumors with starting pitchers like Luis Castillo before he was handed out to Cincinnati Reds Seattle Mariners Friday night in the first big deal this deadline — or chasing the stars of phenoms like Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto or the Angels’ MVP of the American League, Shohei Otani.

For a team that’s pretty sure it’s going to make the playoffs and already looks to be gearing up for a massive October run, moves like this could take it to the top spot.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still little cracks in their foundation – Friday highlighted one of the biggest questions they’ll have to answer as they move down.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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