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.”

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.”