BOSTON — There was a point during the season when Sox manager John Farrell turned to Craig Kimbrel in eighth-inning jams, for five-out saves. That stopped, out of concern for workload.
What Farrell did not want to do after that — and what Kimbrel ostensibly did not want to do either — was have Kimbrel throw in the eighth inning and not the ninth, even if the game was on the line in the eighth.
Kimbrel was the closer, and closers get saves. Saves are not given out in the eighth inning.
Now we’re in the playoffs. Saves should go out the window. And if Addison Reed is in trouble with two on in the eighth inning and none out and the heart of the order up, it’s going to be difficult for Farrell to justify reserving Kimbrel for the ninth, or for a four-out save.
"Without the intent of using him in the ninth?” Farrell said when asked Tuesday if he’d go to Kimbrel in the eighth. “It would probably depend upon who was used prior to that. The addition of David Price, let's face it, you guys write about it frequently, it's changed the dynamic in our bullpen. Depending on where we are in the lineup, I feel like there's probably two or three guys down there who are interchangeable at the highest-leverage spots of the game right now. That includes David being one of those.”
Kimbrel, however, is not one of those guys. He is, per FanGraphs, the second most valuable reliever in the majors this season, behind the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen. Price may be awesome. He’s looked it so far. Reed’s dominant too.
But Kimbrel is a different weapon, and by far the most valuable Farrell has.
Clearly, an expanded role for Kimbrel is on the table. But Farrell must be willing to remove Kimbrel from the ninth inning entirely if need be.
“We’ve used him as much as two full innings,” Farrell said. “And while you don’t necessarily want to do that all the time, one-plus innings are going to be on the table every day — provided that the day before wasn’t two innings or a high number of pitches.”
Here are some notes from Tuesday's workout at Fenway Park:
- Eduardo Nunez’s day Tuesday included sliding. He’s trending in the right direction. His right knee is in a brace and his spikes have been modified so that he doesn’t get caught coming out of the batter’s box, which is how he most recently aggravated his ligament injury. Nunez faced live pitching from Roenis Elias on Monday at Fenway Park. As long as his workout goes well Wednesday, look for him to be on the roster and then potentially start at third base against lefty Dallas Keuchel in Game 2.
- Dustin Pedroia’s situation still sounds up in the air. There’s little doubt he’s out there to begin the ALDS, but it’s a question of how much he can play and how limited he'll be. Farrell said Pedroia has been very communicative about how he feels.“The last couple of days off have helped him,” Farrell said. “We know that this is a little bit of … a work in progress. Don’t anticipate it really changing. I do know this: He is chomping at the bit to begin this series and the postseason, and he’ll be out there every available day.”
- Don’t expect Hanley Ramirez to sit. “I like the fact of the way Hanley was swinging the bat over the last five to seven or eight games,” Farrell said when asked if Nunez could see some time at DH. “That’s been a very good development on our part.”
- Game 1 starter Chris Sale threw a bullpen Monday. That’s one day earlier than he would typically throw a side session going into a start, affording him more rest. He has eight days in between in his final outing of the regular season and Thursday's ALDS opener.