Six examples of how Farrell's usage of Kimbrel has flip-flopped
The six-game road trip that ended Thursday was evidence John Farrell is finally inclined to use his best weapon the best way possible: in the most important moments, against the most dangerous hitters. Even if it’s the eighth inning, even if it’s a tie game.
The six-game road trip was also a reminder how often the Sox manager has done the opposite. How he’s used Kimbrel — or not used him — improperly.
What’s it going to be moving forward? More flip-flopping, or consistency?
Lineup moves and pinch-hit choices usually pale in comparison to how Farrell deals his bullpen ace. Do you want to complain about a manager? When there's a weapon like Kimbrel available, you're onto something.
Fatigue will be a concern with Kimbrel as it is any reliever. Here’s the thing: every time you bring Kimbrel in for the eighth inning, you don’t necessarily have to extend him for the ninth. Someone else can get the final couple outs if the biggest outs are in the eighth.
Here’s a look at Farrell’s inconsistency with Kimbrel:
GOOD - May 28, 2016 at Blue Jays, 10-9 loss
Let’s begin our journey in a wild game that the Sox lost, despite Farrell doing the right thing.
It’s 8-7 in an already lengthy bottom of the eighth inning with one out. Farrell turns to Kimbrel with Kevin Pillar, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista looming — and the potential tying run on third base.
After a strikeout of Pillar, Bautista gets the single that ties it, and the Blue Jays took advantage of some bad defense in the ninth inning for a walk-off.
Kimbrel allowed two runs, one earned. But Farrell went to the right guy in the biggest moment.
BAD - June 12, 2016 at Twins, 7-4 loss
Closers should not be saved for save situations on the road.
Sox and Twins are tied at 4 going to the ninth. With 8-9-1 due up for the Twins, Farrell turned to Junichi Tazawa. Fine.
In the 10th, with 2-3-4 looming and the score still 4-4, Farrell turned to Matt Barnes. Not fine. It’s the heart of the order. A leadoff walk gave way to a walk-off home run from Max Kepler off Barnes.
Kimbrel was in the bullpen. That day was the fifth straight he had not pitched.
BAD - April 7, 2017 at Tigers, 2-1 loss
Sox led 5-4 going to the bottom of the eighth. Heath Hembree, facing 2-3-4 in the Tigers lineup, strikes out two before giving up a head-scratching walk. Then another walk.
Farrell turns to Robby Scott, who promptly gives up a game-tying double. Then comes on Joe Kelly, who walks two, forcing in the go-ahead run for the Tigers.
Put Kimbrel in anywhere. Somewhere.
Farrell’s reasoning not to?
“There will be a time in this season where you look to go to Kimbrel for four outs, but not in Game 3,” he said.
Because spring training, apparently, wasn’t enough…training.
BAD - May 5, 2017 at Twins, 4-3 loss
See June 12, 2016, above. Tie game, in Minnesota, and Barnes gives up a game-winning home run. In Minnesota. This time it was the ninth inning.
Incredible deja vu. Kimbrel did not pitch.
Lesson learned, at last?
GOOD - May 7, 2017 at Twins, 17-6 win
This is the good stuff. There’s just one out in an already troubling eighth inning, the potential tying run is on third base and Mauer and Kepler are coming up. Farrell goes to Kimbrel, who gets strikeouts of both. Farrell goes to Kelly for the ninth after the Sox explode in the top of the ninth.
GOOD - May 11, 2017 at Brewers, 4-1 win
Six days earlier, on the road, Farrell didn’t turn to his closer in a tie game.
He didn’t screw it up this time with the game tied at 1 and the Sox on the verge of getting swept.
Farrell holds Kimbrel until Eric Thames comes off the bench in the eighth inning as the potential go-ahead run — as exciting an early-season match-up as you’ll find. A home run to Thames wouldn’t have changed whether this was the right move.
Kimbrel struck out five on 20 pitches.
Hey, maybe Farrell's onto something.