Craig Kimbrel has mostly enjoyed his first season as the Red Sox closer

Newson September 14th, 2016No Comments

Even the most seasoned of veterans tend to learn something about Boston when they slip on the Red Sox uniform: You’ll have your highest highs and lowest lows in this town.

Former Sox starter Josh Beckett said it on the radio with Toucher and Rich on 98.5 last week and current Sox closer Craig Kimbrel agreed on Wednesday, when he was asked about his relationship with the fan base during his first year in Beantown.

“That’s about right,” said Kimbrel, who is having his worst career season, albeit a solid one with a 2.78 ERA and 25 saves. “It’s had its ups and downs. That’s the Boston fan base. I kind of explain it as, when I’m frustrated in myself, they’re frustrated in me as well. And when I’m happy about the job I’m doing, they’re happy too. As long as you’re going out there and doing your job, you’re making the fans happy. But you can’t do that every single night.

“Still, it’s been good, especially going on the road, with all the Boston fans on the road. That’s been fun.”

Kimbrel has, at times, made things interesting this season. He’s taken four losses and two official blown saves while often struggling during non-save chances or games in which he’s used in the eighth inning. Too often his command has alluded him and even a clean ninth inning save opportunity can carry the drama of a Law and Order episode.

But Kimbrel remains one of the premier closers in the game and just last weekend quietly recorded his 250th career save in Toronto, shutting the door on an 11-8 win that clinched a series victory for the Red Sox. In doing so, Kimbrel became the second player since the save became an official stat in 1969 to collect 250 saves before his 29th birthday. Francisco Rodriguez also accomplished the feat.

“I mean I got an opportunity at a young age, getting drafted and going through the minor leagues pretty quick with Atlanta bringing me up when I was 21, 22 years old,” he said.

Kimbrel, now 28, credited Braves catchers Brian McCann and David Ross for helping him learn how to be a closer. Kimbrel was mostly a starter at Wallace State Community College in Alabama before the Braves took him in the third round of the 2008 draft and made him a full-time reliever.

Kimbrel made his MLB debut in 2010 and immediately found success as a closer. He’s collected 250 saves with a 1.76 ERA, the lowest ERA in MLB history among pitchers with at least 300 innings.

“I was running into problems when I was a starter with exerting a little too much energy a little too fast,” Kimbrel said. “So once I found out the bullpen was my forte and was kind of the area I needed to go, coming in and throwing one inning, sometimes four outs, played right into the kind of competitor I was.

“I wasn’t losing my stuff as a starter, I was just trying to strike the guy out from the first batter to the last batter I got. And when you’re trying to throw more than five innings with counts about 100, you don’t go very deep into the game.”

One of the few milestones Kimbrel hasn’t been able to accomplish is winning a playoff series. He’s allowed just one run on two walks and one hit while striking out 10 over 6-⅔ innings over three separate postseasons, all with the Braves.

He’s hoping to win his first playoff series this October.

“The intensity of some of the games down the stretch are going to be like the playoffs,” he said. “They’re going to be the difference if we go to the playoffs or if we don’t. So, that in itself, that’s why we play this game.”

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