NEW YORK — Craig Kimbrel’s started to conquer the eighth inning as well as the ninth inning. He did it again in Tuesday night's 5-4 win over the first-place Yankees, fanning Aaron Judge on three fastballs to end it.
Kimbrel understands why Sox manager John Farrell has started to use him more liberally, outside of traditional save situations or in tie games in the eighth inning.
But if the Red Sox closer had his way, he’d stick to three outs.
"Honestly, I would prefer to throw one inning two or three nights in a row,” Kimbrel said Tuesday night, after striking out five batters for his 17th save of the season. “I've got to do what I've got to do to help this team win. I think it's five times so far this year . . . I’ve come in in the eighth and helped the team win in that way.
“I think toward the end of the year we might see it a little bit more. Being so early in the year, it's going to be pretty spotty when it happens. It seems like it's worked out over the course of the last month quite a few times.”
Farrell doesn’t want to keep using Kimbrel this way, even though Kimbrel has been so good when asked to.
“It’s been five times now, which is a high number,” Farrell said. “I’ll be honest with you, there’s reluctance on my part to continue to do that. There’s two days off leading up to it when we’ve done it previously, and there’s always been a day or two following where he’s been down. I think the only other time when we’ve not done that has been in Chicago, where he had a couple of days off leading up to it, and I think 20 pitches in an inning-and-a-third. He saved the next day, and then we gave him a couple of days down.
“He’s extremely valuable. He’s incredibly talented. And it will closely be monitored each time he walks to the mound.”
With Kimbrel, the physical concern centers on pitch count rather than the up-and-down, or in other words, the break between innings. Kimbrel doesn’t love waiting around, but in terms of the physical toll, getting hot and then cold again doesn’t take the toll that repeatedly throwing a ball 99 mph with movement does. He uses his whole body in his delivery.
“It’s something that I’m learning on the fly on how to do it,” Kimbrel said “I don’t see how the starters sit and watch the game for that long. That’s a lot. You know I’m a high intensity, give me the ball, let’s go kind of guy.”
But it’s not entirely on the fly. Kimbrel said the discussions with Farrell about going one-plus innings date back to last season.
“Towards the playoff push last year, we had those conversations,” Kimbrel said. “And it’s kind of carried over into the start of this year and just having those opportunities. He’s been pretty vocal with me when that opportunity might come, which always helps.
“In a perfect scenario, I face one guy in the eighth and three guys in the ninth and my pitch count won’t get up there. But it’s not going to be like that every time. It would definitely be the pitch count I think more than the up and down. As long as I can keep my body moving. Give me some time to do a little bit of scouting report between innings. That’s fine.”
Farrell knows pitch count is what matters most.
“Just because of the intensity and the power he creates,” Farrell said. “The up and down he’s accustomed to.”