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Kimbrel amped to pitch in front of Fenway faithful

Newson February 19th, 2016No Comments

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The pleasantries of Spring Training are all well and good for new Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel. But the real fun will start for this ultra-competitive righty once the bullpen gate at Fenway Park opens for the first time and he converts a save with close to 40,000 fans roaring with every strike.

San Diego — where Kimbrel pitched last year — is a blissful city with good weather nearly all of the time. Atlanta has a good baseball tradition and Kimbrel felt lucky to pitch for the team he rooted for as a kid.

Red Sox’s Spring Training info

But Kimbrel is eagerly awaiting the challenge of pitching the ninth inning in Boston.

“I feel like I do better in big situations. I love seeing people in the seats,” said Kimbrel. “I love the crowds getting loud. I think that’s just a great atmosphere to have. I know as a player I feed off of it and the entire team feeds off of it.

“I want that ball at the end of the game. I want to wrap it up and let everyone go home happy. So the more opportunities I get to do that, and the more situations I get put in that are tight situations, I think that’s good. Hopefully more times than not, we come out on top.”

Before president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski traded four prospects to the Padres for Kimbrel, he heard a lot from advisor Frank Wren about how much the righty relished the big moments. Wren was the general manager in Atlanta when Kimbrel was there.

Outlook: Kimbrel, RP, BOS

“Craig is a proven, elite closer,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “We’re looking forward to handing the ball to him in the ninth inning. In getting to have some understanding of him, I think he’ll thrive on the energy that is Fenway, and after spending a year on the West Coast, I think he’s truly looking forward to being back on the East Coast.”

“I don’t have to schedule my phone calls around time zones anymore,” said Kimbrel. “I’m definitely excited to be back on the East Coast.”

If Kimbrel was less than thrilled about being dealt from the Braves to the Padres the day before the 2015 season, he is thrilled about his latest move, which happened in November.

“I’m ready to go,” Kimbrel said. “I’m ready to figure out what this organization is about. This is one of the biggest organizations out there, and I couldn’t be more excited. We’ve got a lot of good hitters on our team, and I’m just glad I don’t have to face them.”

One of those hitters is Hanley Ramirez.

What was it like to face Kimbrel?

“Easy,” said Ramirez. “I don’t give credit to pitchers.”

Then the right-handed hitter turned serious.

“He’s my teammate now, so he’s nasty. He’s good. He’s a competitor,” Ramirez said. “He knows how to pitch. He throws hard.”

Kimbrel will have another closer setting him up in Koji Uehara.

“I was joking with Koji earlier that I want him to teach me how to throw a split-finger,” Kimbrel said.

When Kimbrel gets between those lines, don’t expect to see a smile. He is as serious about baseball as the city he is about to start playing in.

“That’s how I am. There’s no holding back,” Kimbrel said. “There’s a time to relax and a time to work, and right now, I’m at work. I guess I can relax a little bit when I get home.”

Kimbrel full of holiday cheer, optimism at ‘Christmas at Fenway’

Newson December 12th, 2015No Comments

BOSTON — Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel was born and raised in Alabama, played five years with the Braves in Atlanta, and spent one year with the Padres in San Diego. Suffice it to say, the fireballer’s first Boston winter may come as a shock to the system.

But on Saturday morning, standing inside the Fenway Park concourse at the Red Sox’s annual “Christmas at Fenway” event, Kimbrel was basking in the mid-50s sun.

“The weather is awesome right now,” Kimbrel said. “It’s like this year-round, right?”

Unlike last year, when Kimbrel was scrambling to find new digs in San Diego after being traded on the eve of Opening Day, the 27-year-old righty is enjoying a smoother transition to Boston.

“I get to come up here and look for a place to live and not have to do it while we’re on a seven-game homestand,” Kimbrel said. “It’s going to be quite nice, especially getting to know the guys in Spring Training.”

The first player to text Kimbrel after the Nov. 13 trade? Second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

“He said, ‘Welcome to the team and I can’t wait to get things going. It’s going to be a special year,'” Kimbrel said. “And I really do think it’s going to be.”

Kimbrel is nothing if not confident. He expects big things out of his new team in 2016.

“I’m excited to be here in Boston to have the chance to win,” he said. “I think the team that’s being put together is going to have a great opportunity to go all the way and win the World Series, which is every player’s goal and dream every year.”

The Red Sox gave up a pretty penny to get Kimbrel — four of their Top 30 Prospects, according to MLB.com’s rankings — but he has been perhaps the game’s best closer since his first full season in 2011.

Kimbrel has saved 224 games over the past five years, 58 more than anyone else in baseball, and his career K/9 rate is 14.5.

“Every time I watched him, I was like, ‘Man, this guy’s a bulldog,'” said lefty reliever Robbie Ross Jr. “He throws hard, he goes right at guys, he doesn’t back down. That’s something I’ve always respected, is somebody who goes out there and attacks people and goes right at ’em.”

One source of optimism for fans and players alike is a revamped Red Sox bullpen, which added right-hander Carson Smith on Dec. 7. Smith had a 2.13 ERA last season and gave opposing righties fits.

“It’s not going to matter if the starter goes six innings or if he goes eight innings,” Kimbrel said. “We’re not going to lose games when the starter comes out. We’re going to expect our bullpen to go out there and carry those innings throughout the entire season.”

As Kimbrel spoke, the atmosphere behind him was laid back — fans purchased tickets, posed with World Series trophies and mingled with characters such as Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch. Kimbrel joked that he might even get a chance to sit oin Santa’s lap.

But the new closer, as team president Sam Kennedy was quick to point out, is intense. He wants the ball. And he wants to win.

“Nobody can be harder on me than myself,” Kimbrel said, asked if he can handle the sometimes unforgiving atmosphere in Boston. “If I blow a save and get booed, I deserve it. I expect the highest out of myself, so I don’t think that would get to me much at all.

“My idea is to get the ball the next night and come out and get my job done. Then everybody can cheer.”

Red Sox strike deal with Padres for Kimbrel

Newson November 18th, 2015No Comments

BOSTON — The Red Sox acquired an electric, four-time All-Star closer in Craig Kimbrel on Friday night, sending four prospects to the San Diego Padres.

Dave Dombrowski’s first major acquisition since being hired by the Red Sox as president of baseball operations in August was a doozy, one that paves the way for a bullpen that could dominate in the late innings.

Koji Uehara, the club’s closer the last three seasons, will move to the eighth inning. Junichi Tazawa, one of the top setup men in the game the last couple of years, will be responsible for the seventh.

And Kimbrel, smack in the middle of his prime at 27 years old, will be there to finish. The Red Sox have Kimbrel under their contractual control for the next three seasons.

“When we look at Craig, we look at him as a premium closer, and there are various names out there, but [Kimbrel is] one of the best in the game of baseball,” said Dombrowski. “I think the key for us is we had identified some guys that stood above the rest, as far as the ability to close. We thought the ability to get one of those guys was extremely important.”

To acquire Kimbrel, Dombrowski parted with outfielder Manuel Margot, shortstop Javier Guerra, infielder Carlos Asuaje and lefty Logan Allen.

• Trade analysis

Margot was ranked third among Red Sox prospects by MLB.com, and Guerra was rated sixth. Margot was signed by the Red Sox as an international free agent in 2011 out of the Dominican Republic and is known for his athleticism. Guerra, signed out of Panama in 2012, could emerge into a star on defense at a key position. Allen was drafted by the Red Sox in the eighth round back in June.

“You don’t ever like to give up young talent,” Dombrowski said. “We think they’re very talented individuals. We do have some depth at those positions.”

• Red Sox top prospects

Dombrowski liked the fact he didn’t have to give up any Major League talent.

Kimbrel, who was traded from the Braves to the Padres the day before the 2015 season started, is looking forward to the opportunity to get acclimated to his new team this time around.

“I’m excited,” said Kimbrel. “With the history and the fans in Boston, the atmosphere is always awesome every time I’ve been there. You can feel the history and everything behind it there. To be able to play in front of those fans is going to be a lot of fun.”

Red Sox manager John Farrell called Uehara before the trade was officially announced, and the righty once again exemplified the team-first attitude he’s been known for throughout his career. Uehara, who threw the final pitch of the 2013 World Series for the Red Sox, will be 41 at the start of next season.

“John made sure to reach out to Koji and spoke to him tonight already, and he said he was really good with the change of role and that all he wants to do is pitch in the World Series again,” said Dombrowski. “He basically said, ‘You don’t have to worry about me, I’ll pitch whenever you’re asked to.'”

Now that Kimbrel is in the fold, Dombrowski can look for depth in the bullpen from here on out, and try to sign an ace starter on the free-agent market.

“I think this is enough of a major move that we need to make,” said Dombrowski. “Because when you shift Koji into the eighth and Tazawa into the seventh, that’s significant. I can’t say we won’t do some tweaking as time goes on, I’m not really sure about that, but I think with the major moves, this is a big step for us and probably the major step we look to make at this point.”

Though no closer is automatic, Kimbrel often comes close. Since the start of his first full season in 2011, Kimbrel leads Major Leaguers in saves (224), ranks second in ERA (1.70), strikeouts (523), strikeouts-per-nine innings (14.37), and save percentage (90.7); is third in WHIP (0.91) and opponents’ batting average (.160); and is fourth in hits allowed per nine innings (5.05).

The righty has converted 225 of 248 save opportunities, good for a 90.7 percent conversion rate that ranks second all-time in MLB history among relievers with at least 200 save chacnces.

Back on June 8, Kimbrel recorded his 200th save in his 318th career game, becoming the fastest reliever in history to reach that plateau.

The Red Sox also had been looking into Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. However, Chapman is eligible for free agency at the end of ’16. The Red Sox will pay Kimbrel $11 million next season, $13 million in 2017, and they hold a club option worth $13 million in ’18.

Kimbrel was 4-2 with 39 saves and a 2.58 ERA in 61 appearances (59 1/3 innings) for the Padres in 2015. He notched 87 strikeouts for a 13.20 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio, the third highest among all NL relievers (5th best in MLB), and the highest single-season mark in team history for a Padres reliever.

“Moving to the American League, I’m excited,” said Kimbrel. “It’s a league with big bats, and as a pitcher, you want that opportunity to be able to face those big bats. It’s a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)

With a 1.70 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP since the start of 2011, Kimbrel is arguably the safest fantasy closer. The right-hander faltered slightly last season, but a down year for Kimbrel consisted of a 2.58 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. With the Red Sox, he should be a source of elite ratios and roughly 40 saves.

Kimbrel’s arrival squashes the fantasy value for deposed stopper Koji Uehara. The 40-year-old righty would have been a solid No. 2 closer in mixed leagues for 2016, but he will now stay on waivers in most formats. With a lifetime 2.42 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP, he can still be a strong source of ratios for deep-league owners.

In San Diego, Kevin Quackenbush and Brandon Maurer have the best chance among those on the current roster to earn 2016 save chances. But given the Padres’ active track record in the past 12 months, it seems likely that their bullpen could undergo additional changes in the coming weeks.

Kimbrel gets his 200th save

Newson June 9th, 2015No Comments

Craig Kimbrel notched the 200th save of his major-league career in the Padres’ 11-inning victory against the Braves. Kimbrel reached the 200-save mark in his 318th major-league game, 41 games quicker than any other pitcher has hit that plateau. (The old record was 359 games by Jonathan Papelbon.) Kimbrel posted his 200th save only 11 days after his 27th birthday. He’s the second-youngest pitcher at the time of his 200th career save, behind Francisco Rodriguez, who hit that milestone with the Angels on Sept. 2, 2008 at age 26 years, 239 days.

Kimbrel puts on dazzling display in Padres debut

Newson April 8th, 2015No Comments

Padres’ players lined the rail of their dugout Tuesday night to catch the first glimpse of their latest teammate.

Few were seeing Craig Kimbrel for the first time. But everyone was seeing Kimbrel as a Padre for the first time.

And his debut was short and sweet — even if his new teammates denied him the opportunity of getting a save by scoring four times against the Dodgers’ bullpen in the top of the ninth.

Kimbrel threw 16 pitches — 10 were for strikes. He struck out all three Dodgers he faced — Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson and Justin Turner. All three went down swinging. Actually, they went down flailing.

Kimbrel has a devastating combination for a relief pitcher. His fastball hits 97-98 mph on the radar gun … with movement. And his curve — more like a “slurve” cross between a curve and a hard slider — has so much late break that it looks like a dive bomber.

That combination might explain why the 26-year-old right-hander already has 185 saves over the past four seasons. By comparison, Trevor Hoffman didn’t record his 185th save until late in his 30th year.

Kimbrel has a 1.43 ERA in 295 games. He has struck out 479 of the 1,130 batters he has faced — meaning he has struck out 42.4 percent of all the Major League hitters he has faced at an average of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

But that’s not the most incredible stat regarding Kimbrel, whom the Padres acquired from the Atlanta Braves on the eve of the season opener.

Rival hitters are hitting .152 against Kimbrel since his Major League debut on May 7, 2010. Last year they hit .142. Less than a runner an inning has reached base against Kimbrel over the course of his career.

It’s not often that a team has the best player in the Major Leagues at his position.

And that’s exactly what the Padres have with Kimbrel.

Huntsville’s Craig Kimbrel named National League’s top relief pitcher for 2014 season

Newson October 23rd, 2014No Comments

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel wished he could have accepted his award on Wednesday in uniform, the way his American League counterpart, Greg Holland of the Kansas City Royals, did.

While Kimbrel’s season is over, Holland’s team is playing in the World Series. Kimbrel was presented the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award and Holland received the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award before Game 2 of the World Series between the Royals and the San Francisco Giants.

“I’m a little jealous,” Kimbrel said. “He gets to wear his uniform right now.”

Kimbrel went to Lee High School in Huntsville before playing at Wallace State in Hanceville.

Kimbrel led the National League with 47 saves during the 2014 season. He had a 1.61 earned-run average and struck out 95 batters in 61.2 innings. He gave up 30 hits and 26 walks.

The awards were presented for the first time this year. The award winners were chosen by nine top relievers from baseball’s past, including the namesakes for the awards. The four living Hall of Fame relief pitchers – Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Finger, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter – also were on the selection panel, along with three pitchers from the top five in career saves – John Franco, Lee Smith and Bill Wagner.

Kimbrel is the first pitcher in baseball history to have 40 or more saves in each of his first four full Major League seasons. Over the past four years, Kimbrel has 185 saves — 48 more than any other pitcher. Already Atlanta’s career saves leader, Kimbrel became the third pitcher to register at least 40 saves in four consecutive seasons, joining Hoffman, who did it twice, and Francisco Rodriguez.

Kimbrel named Braves’ Clemente Award nominee

Newson September 16th, 2014No Comments

ATLANTA — Though he is still learning the many different ways he can assist as the spokesman for Athletes Curing Kids’ Cancer, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel has already made enough of an impact on the Atlanta community to be named the Braves’ nominee for this year’s Roberto Clemente Award.

“At this point, I’m still figuring out what I can do and who to help,” Kimbrel said. “It’s been fun figuring that out over the past few years. I’ve come to learn that you can do a lot more than you think you can if you just try.”

Wednesday is Roberto Clemente Day throughout Major League Baseball, a day instituted on the 30th anniversary of his passing in 1972 to keep alive Clemente’s spirit of giving.

Beginning Wednesday, fans will be able to go to MLB.com/ClementeAward to decide which of this year’s 30 club winners will receive this prestigious Roberto Clemente Award. The nominees were chosen based on their dedication to giving back to the community, as well as their outstanding ability on the field. Voting will end on Oct. 6.

“My wife [Ashley] and I do as much as we can to help,” Kimbrel said. “Our time is limited and affects how much we can actually help. But when we get the chance, we do.”

Many members of the baseball world have come to recognize Kimbrel as the only pitcher in Major League history to notch at least 40 saves during each of his first four full seasons. Clay and Grainne Owen have come to know Kimbrel as a kind-hearted, generous individual who has proven to be the perfect spokesperson for their charity, Curing Kids’ Cancer.

“We just feel so blessed,” Grainne told MLB.com last winter. “We really do. If I had written down all of the qualities I wanted in somebody, I couldn’t have found anyone any better.”

The Owens started their charity in 2004, one year after their 9-year-old son Killian died of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, which has become recognized as the most common and curable type of childhood cancer.

During his 4 1/2-year battle with this disease, Killian underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. He also received experimental targeted treatment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

“They are great people,” Kimbrel said. “They’re only focus is to raise money to come with better research. They send their own doctors through schooling to come up with new cures and learn more about pediatric cancer, which is so different than regular cancer, but they treat it the same. We see that as a problem, because how are you going to treat a child like an adult, because a child’s body can’t withstand the same amount of stress that an adult body can.”