BOSTON -- A year ago, Craig Kimbrel took some time adjusting to a new team. Are we seeing the same thing play out here in Boston?
Last year, on the eve of the start of the 2015 season, Kimbrel was dealt from the Atlanta Braves to the San Diego Padres.
Kimbrel was brilliant in his Padres debut, striking out the side in his first appearance just days after the trade was made. In fact, he was terrific for the first six appearances, going unscored upon while converting on each of his first four save opportunities.
But after that, Kimbrel fell into a funk that lasted about a month. From April 17 to May 19, Kimbrel pitched in 12 games and allowed 10 earned runs, resulting in an ERA of 8.44 in that span. He gave up 13 hits in 10 2/3 innings.
Thereafter, Kimbrel returned to form. From the middle of May until the end of the season, he was brilliant, posting an ERA of 1.44 while yielding just 24 hits in 43 2/3 innings. In that span, he struck out 64 and walked just 17.
Perhaps that, as much as anything, helps explain Kimbrel's two stumbles on his first Red Sox homestand.
In the home opener against Baltimore, he gave up a three-run monster shot into the center-field bleachers to slugger Chris Davis, turning what had been a 6-6 tie into a 9-6 Orioles lead (the O's would go on to a 9-7 victory).
On Monday, Kimbrel imploded in the eighth inning, walking in one run before giving up a two-run bloop single. What had been a 1-1 tie quickly devolved to 4-1 lead for Toronto and, eventually, a 4-3 Blue Jays win.
On the surface, Kimbrel looks as dominant as ever. His fastball touched 99 mph on several occasions Monday. And after striking out Edwin Encarnacion for the second out, he got ahead of Troy Tulowitzki 1-and-2, moving to within a strike of leaving the bases jammed and the game tied.
But Kimbrel then threw three straight pitches out of the strike zone, including a ball four that was way up and inside, nowhere close to a strike.
Kimbrel didn't sound thrilled with being asked to come in to get outs in the eighth inning, but that won't happen often. After Koji Uehara walked two batters and hit another, John Farrell didn't have much choice but to go with his closer earlier than expected.
The suggestion that Kimbrel lacks the makeup to succeed in Boston is wholly premature. Though he's pitched in two markets that admittedly aren't as intense as Boston, anyone who's closed games out on the major-leagel level for as long and as well as Kimbrel shouldn't be cowed by a new environment.
Pitching in San Diego, Kimbrel had plenty of save chances in Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium and San Francisco's AT&T Park, two hostile settings. And while in Atlanta, he had plenty of exposure to Philadelphia and New York, which can be intimidating backdrops.
Is he having difficulty adjusting to the American League, which is known to have stronger and deeper lineups? Perhaps.
It's not as if Kimbrel has somehow lost it overnight.
He has the lowest ERA ever of any closer with a mininum of 250 innings and leads all relievers in saves since the start of the 2011 season. At 27 -- he turns 28 next month -- he's in the prime of his career.
Unless this homestand's difficulties morph into a longer, more disconcerting slump, it's too soon to say that Kimbrel doesn't have what it takes to succeed here.
Until then, it's best to view his struggles through the proper prism -- an accomplished closer who's had two poor games in a week.
For now, it's nothing more and nothing less.