Craig Kimbrel has been simply overpowering so far

Newson May 8th, 2017No Comments

MILWAUKEE — Dustin Pedroia watched Jonathan Papelbon close out games with power and Koji Uehara do it with finesse. Both helped the Red Sox win World Series.

Now, in Craig Kimbrel, Pedroia sees a closer capable of both. The righthander has a fastball that sits comfortably at 98-99 m.p.h. along with a curveball that he’s not afraid to use at any point in the count.

“He’s always been good, a guy who is an All-Star most years and one of the best at what he does,” Pedroia said. “But this year, it’s overpowering. He comes in and punches everybody out. His stuff is overwhelming.”

The statistics reflect that. Kimbrel leads the American League with 10 saves and has struck out 26 of the 50 batters he has faced. Opponents are 5 of 47 (.106) against Kimbrel with a .373 OPS.

In his last 11 appearances, Kimbrel has stuck out 21 of the 35 hitters he has faced and thrown 106 of 151 pitches for strikes (70 percent). He goes into Tuesday’s series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers having retired 12 batters in a row.

This is the best Kimbrel has pitched for the Red Sox since they obtained him from the San Diego Padres prior to the 2016 season.

“Without a doubt,” manager John Farrell said. “Last year was a strong year for him, but maybe not to the caliber he’s had previous. There were some things he was working through.

“[This season] has far surpassed anything that he did last year for us.”

It has been timely, too. The Red Sox significantly changed the look of their bullpen this season with the loss of Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and Brad Ziegler to free agency. They also lost setup man Tyler Thornburg to a shoulder injury in spring training.

Kimbrel’s dominance has allowed Farrell to fit players into roles working back from the ninth inning. The bullpen, a jumble at the start of the season, has become one of the team’s strengths largely because of Kimbrel.

“He’s allowed us the ability to mix and match more readily,” Farrell said. “He’s allowed some younger guys to step up and assume a role that they might not be accustomed to because they know he’s there behind him as a shut-down closer.

“He gives an awful lot of confidence to that bullpen group, knowing you have that guy standing next to you.”

It started in spring training, Kimbrel working diligently on correcting the mechanical issues that affected him at times last season. His footwork occasionally threw his body out of alignment, which led to a career-worst 5.1 walks per nine innings and bouts of inconsistency.

“Being in the bullpen, one bad game can ruin your year statistically,” said Kimbrel. “I’ve never thought the numbers carry the weight of the entire year. There were a few of those games last year.”

Kimbrel allowed two or more runs six times and often struggled in non-save situations. Midseason knee surgery also kept him out three weeks.

“There were things I needed to work on,” Kimbrel said. “That’s been the case throughout my career, but especially last season. I wasn’t myself at times.

“Now, I feel like when I can command my fastball, it opens up throwing the breaking ball. I don’t have to be so pinpoint with it.”

Beyond mechanics and adjustments is a more simple explanation for Kimbrel’s success: familiarity.

He was traded from the Atlanta Braves to the San Diego Padres just before the start of the 2015 season, then sent to the Red Sox seven months later. This is the first time since 2014 that Kimbrel has had the same manager, pitching coach, and teammates for consecutive years.

He’s one of the guys, not the new guy.

“I think, for any player, comfort is a huge component in how guys perform,” said Farrell. “There’s more of a known commodity. Last year was the third team in three years for him. The fact that there’s stability in his professional life I would think lends something to this. He’s certainly settled in the way he’s thrown the baseball.”

Kimbrel also said this is the best he has felt physically in quite a while.

“For me, that’s all you can ask for,” he said. “Everything else follows.”

On Sunday against the Minnesota Twins, Kimbrel entered the game in the eighth inning with a one-run lead and a runner on third. He struck out Joe Mauer with a curveball and Max Kepler with a fastball.

The plan was for Kimbrel to stay in for the ninth inning and pick up a five-out save. But he was able to stay in the dugout when the Red Sox scored 10 runs in the top of the inning.

He laughed when asked if regretted not being around for the save.

“I’m glad we won the game,” Kimbrel said.

That’s one more statistic worth mentioning: The Sox are 14-0 when Kimbrel pitches.

“I’m glad I don’t have to face him,” Pedroia said. “He’s been ridiculous.”

Craig Kimbrel Reaches New High With Third Save In Three Days

Newson April 17th, 2017No Comments
The Boston Red Sox haven’t had the best luck with new bullpen acquisitions, as Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith can attest.
But Craig Kimbrel has done everything in his power of late to change that narrative. The Red Sox closer was lights-out again Monday, mowing down three Tampa Bay Rays batters to earn the save in Boston’s 4-3 Patriots’ Day win at Fenway Park. It was Kimbrel’s fifth save of the season and third in as many days, as the hard-throwing right-hander became the first Red Sox pitcher to notch three saves in a single series since Mike Timlin in 2006. Kimbrel has experienced some bumps in the road since joining Boston in November 2015, posting a 2-6 record with a 3.40 ERA last season while battling a knee injury. But the 28-year-old finally appears to be hitting his stride. “He’s probably in the best spot he’s been from a delivery standpoint in the year-plus that he’s been here,” manager John Farrell told reporters in a postgame press conference aired on NESN. Indeed, Kimbrel seems to have harnessed his occasionally wild fastball, combining it with a lethal curveball to rack up 12 strikeouts while walking just two in seven innings pitched. He still hasn’t blown a save at Fenway Park, either, improving to 22-for-22 in home save opportunities after Monday’s win. Kimbrel has been called upon often this season, picking up the save in six of Boston’s eight wins. But his strong work ethic has helped him answer the call. “If you see the work that he puts in after he pitches, he keeps himself in tremendous shape,” Farrell added. “And I think on those days on which he is pitching the third day, it’s when he’s been efficient, much like we saw (Monday): good command, good location, his curveballs for strikes. “You complement (an) upper-90s (fastball) with a well-above average curveball — he’s in a good spot.”

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.”

Eighth-Inning Bridge To Craig Kimbrel Still A Pressing Need

Newson August 31st, 2016No Comments
BOSTON — The Red Sox already had blown one lead, but Craig Kimbrel wasn’t about to let them blow another. The Red Sox closer entered in the ninth inning Wednesday at Fenway Park with his club clinging to a two-run advantage over the Tampa Bay Rays. It was a big spot for Kimbrel, as Boston had just scored two runs in the eighth inning after Junichi Tazawa allowed the Rays to tie the score in the top of the frame. Once again, Kimbrel delivered, retiring Tampa in order on 10 pitches to pick up his 24th save of the season and preserve an 8-6 victory. The All-Star closer has been lights out since returning from the disabled list Aug. 1, allowing just one run on four hits over 10 innings pitched while striking out 18. He hasn’t blown a save since May 28. Unfortunately, Kimbrel’s effectiveness only highlights the Red Sox’s glaring need for a solid setup man. On Tuesday, it was Clay Buchholz who surrendered the go-ahead run in the eighth. On Wednesday, it was a combination of Fernando Abad and Tazawa, with Abad loading the bases on a hit and two walks and Tazawa surrendering a two-out, two-RBI single to Logan Forsythe that tied the score at 6-6. With reliever Brad Ziegler unavailable due to a bout with the flu, manager John Farrell was asked if he considered bringing Kimbrel on in the eighth to attempt a four-out save. “No,” Farrell said. “After he had an inning of work (Tuesday), because had not pitched in six days (before that), (I) was not going with a quick turnaround and look to get four outs from him.” Indeed, Kimbrel threw 22 pitches in Tuesday night’s 4-3 loss. But while Farrell said he decided pregame not to pitch his closer more than an inning, Kimbrel admitted he was ready to go if the team needed him. “If I have to come in the eighth inning and help somebody out, that’s happened to me many times this year,” Kimbrel said after the game, via WEEI.com. “… If I need to come in in the eighth, I’ll be ready in the eighth.” That didn’t happen, though, and the result was another eventful ride on the Red Sox’s roller coaster bullpen.

Craig Kimbrel To Re-Join Red Sox In Seattle

Newson August 1st, 2016No Comments

BOSTON (CBS) — Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel is expected to re-join the team and be activated for Monday night’s road contest against the Seattle Mariners. Kimbrel was injured on July 9 and underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee on July 11.

Kimbrel was initially given a timetable of three-to-six weeks, with Monday marking exactly three weeks since the surgery. The All-Star closer threw 17 pitches for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday in what appears to have been his only rehab start.

Manager John Farrell confirmed Saturday night in Anaheim that Kimbrel would re-join the team in Seattle on Monday, but added that “a determination will be made of activation on Monday and a corresponding move at that point.”

The Red Sox face a tough decision with the aforementioned “corresponding move,” which could mean a demotion for Joe Kelly or Tommy Layne – assuming Clay Buchholz or another player isn’t traded off the major league roster before Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline.

Craig Kimbrel on Herald podcast: Pitchers deserve MVP consideration

Newson May 16th, 2016No Comments

He took the loss in his first appearance as the Red Sox’ closer at Fenway Park on Monday, but Craig Kimbrel bounced back. The 27-year-old has made a career of forgetting what has happened in the past.

Kimbrel, who struck out the side Wednesday for his first save at Fenway in the Sox’ 4-2 win over the Orioles, has won an array of awards during a career in which his name has been splashed across the history books, all before his 28th birthday. He set the record for most saves by a rookie with 46 while on the Braves in 2011. And he entered the 2016 season with the best ERA in MLB history (1.63).

Asked about his accomplishments on the Herald’s new Red Sox podcast, Stepping Off The Bag, Kimbrel offered a unique perspective.

“Anytime anybody asks me questions about what I’ve done, all I can say is, it’s what I did, it’s not what I’m doing right now,” he said. “What I’ve done in the past isn’t going to carry over into this season or into my next game. It’s great I was able to do that but that’s not going to help me go out there and get three outs or however many outs I’m asked to get.”

While with the Braves from 2011 through 2014, Kimbrel finished in the top-10 in Cy Young voting each season and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting once, when he had a 1.01 ERA with 116 strikeouts in 62.2 innings in 2012.

It was an almost-perfect season, but Kimbrel finished eighth in the MVP vote. Should pitchers garner more consideration for the MVP?

“Absolutely, it’s the most valuable player, not most valuable position player,” Kimbrel said. “Pitches are players too. If you’re a pitcher and have a great year and you’re most valuable player in the league then absolutely you should be able to win.”

For more from Kimbrel, and for a conversation about the Red Sox from the Herald’s beat writers, tune in to the Stepping Off The Bag podcast below:

Kimbrel continues dominant spring

Newson March 24th, 2016No Comments

FORT MYERS, Fla. — All systems are go for new Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, who has been nearly perfect in Spring Training.

The righty produced his most dominant outing in Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Mets, striking out all three batters he faced in the eighth inning.

“Obviously, yeah, I am ready to go,” said Kimbrel. “But you can’t always base results off of how good you feel. There are days you can go out there and be all over the place and still be effective. There’s days when you feel great and still get hit around.”

Kimbrel has pitched five times in Spring Training and given up one hit. That was in his first outing.

In five innings, he has nine strikeouts and no walks.

“He’s thrown the ball exceptionally well,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “He looks midseason form with the power that he’s showing to his fastball. He’s thrown some breaking balls now that are, like I said, midseason. He’ll get a couple more appearances before we break camp.”

The righty finished Thursday’s outing by blowing a 98-mph heater by L.J. Mazzilli.

“I wouldn’t say as a whole you don’t want to look into results too much, good or bad,” Kimbrel said. “You’ve still got to make sure you make your pitches and make sure everything’s kind of dialed in and everything’s on time.”