BOSTON (CBS) — Craig Kimbrel made some major league history on Tuesday night. But it may be a few nights before we see the Boston closer again.
Kimbrel was once again called upon to get the final four outs of a Red Sox win. And for the second time in just under two weeks, he needed to get an additional out to notch that victory.
When his third strike to Didi Gregorius bounced its way under the armpit of catcher Christian Vazquez and to the backstop, allowing New York’s Matt Holiday to score from third base to make it a 5-4 game in the bottom of the eighth, Kimbrel needed to record another out to get out of the inning. He walked Chase Headley to put runners at first and second before calmly striking out Chris Carter to end the frame. But after that wild pitch, he threw 11 pitches that he really didn’t need to throw.
It didn’t matter much on Tuesday night, as Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth inning to record his 17th save of the season and become the first pitcher to ever strike out five batters in a four-inning save. He closed the night with a 99 mph heater to Aaron Judge, striking the New York slugger out on three pitches. Kimbrel is now up to a ridiculous 53 Ks in just 26.2 innings pitched.
It’s an incredible run that Kimbrel is on to start the season, but manager John Farrell is starting to get a bit concerned about his closer’s hefty workload. He’s now called upon Kimbrel to get outs in the eighth inning five times this season, which already matches Kimbrel’s career-high for extended outings from last season. He’s thrown at least 30 pitches on three different occasions, including each of his last two appearances.
“To be honest, there is reluctance on my part to do that,” Farrell said of sending Kimbrel out in the eighth. “But there were two days off leading up to it, and when we’ve done it previously there have either been a day or two following when he’s been down. … He is extremely valuable and incredibly talented, and it will be closely monitored every time he walks to the mound.”
Farrell said his concern lies more with Kimbrel’s growing pitch counts than the up-and-down between innings. Kimbrel said that little breather between the eighth and ninth inning is something he is not used to.
“I’m learning on the fly on how to do it. I don’t see how the starters can sit and watch the game for that long,” Kimbrel told reporters. “I’m a high intensity guy; give me the ball and let’s go kind of guy. It’s been successful so far so we’ll see how it goes.”
Kimbrel even admitted that he’d prefer to go just one inning on consecutive nights, as he’s done for just about his entire eight-year career, rather than a few extended appearances every few nights. But he’s willing to do whatever the team needs him to do to win ball games.
“Honestly, I would prefer to throw one inning two or three nights in a row. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to help this team win,” he said. “Towards the end of the year we might see it a little more. It seems like it’s worked out over the course of the last month quite a few times.”
Boston’s lack of a defined bridge to the ninth inning has required Farrell to get creative with his closer, so any added bullpen help could alleviate the manager’s concerns the rest of the way. Whether that comes internally (if Carson Smith or Tyler Thornburg ever return from injuries) or Dave Dombrowski needs to find more (hopefully healthy) options on the trade market, it’s clear the Red Sox need some help in the pen.
There is good chance we see Farrell shy away from using Kimbrel for multiple innings as the baseball season hits the summer months. But so far, the All-Star closer has been up to the challenge, and now that he knows Kimbrel is more than capable of getting four outs, it could be something Farrell saves in his back pocket for when things really ratchet up down the stretch.