Before we annihilate John Farrell for leaving Craig Kimbrel on the sideline Friday in a 6-5 loss to the Tigers, let’s give thought to the possibility that Kimbrel just isn’t down for that Andrew Miller, do-whatever-is needed type of bullpen life.
Think back to what he said in Cleveland last October, before the start of the Division Series.
How would Kimbrel feel about entering with the bases loaded in the seventh inning? He sounded lukewarm, at best.
“It would definitely be different, but if I’m told to get ready for it, I’ll be ready for it,” Kimbrel said. “I think in those situations where maybe you’re not looking for it or maybe not prepared for situations, it might sneak up on you.
“I don’t know if that situation is going to present itself,” Kimbrel continued. “Our bullpen’s pretty good. We’ve got a bullpen full of guys that are really successful and can get out of those situations, so in a scenario where I have to come in in the seventh, I don’t think that’s very likely, but if it happened, I’d just try to do it.”
Maybe at some point Kimbrel needs to be told these things are going to be likely, and he needs to adjust to it.
In April, that means being ready for the bases loaded in the eighth inning.
The best moment to use Kimbrel is its own debate. But to go down without throwing your best punch Friday, as the Red Sox did — four outs away from a win — is hard to see.
“There will be a time in this season where you look to go to Kimbrel for four outs, but not in Game 3,” Farrell told reporters in Detroit.
And that time isn't now, why?
The Sox bullpen barely has a thread to hold on to, never mind a Thornburg.
Three relievers expected to start the season aren’t around: Matt Barnes (bereavement), Tyler Thornburg (shoulder) and Robbie Ross (flu).
One would think that would mean Kimbrel, the best reliever the Sox have no matter who else is healthy, would be a little more at the ready for some "special usage."
In moments after Heath Hembree loses the strike zone, or Joe Kelly loses it too.
Farrell’s instincts about Kelly coming out of spring training were proven right Friday. A potential eighth-inning replacement for Thornburg, Kelly is nibbling, and nibbling is not what’s needed in that role.
Kudos to Farrell for seeing that situation properly even as others, including this onlooker, suggested he was being too quick to bail on Kelly.
But back to Farrell's words — why not Game 3?
Did Farrell feel it would put too much stress on Kimbrel’s arm to face one extra hitter, sit down in between innings and then go back out for the ninth? Is it because Kimbrel’s not feeling fully built up yet?
Is his health something less than 100 percent?
It’s hard to believe an extra hitter would really be that much to ask. Spring training didn’t just begin.
Maybe Farrell’s confidence in Kimbrel is slightly less than it has been at other points this season. Kimbrel’s first outing was shaky, with an erratic curveball. Maybe Farrell just wants to get Kimbrel into a routine.
But let’s be real: Kimbrel looked better Wednesday than he did Monday, and he’s still the best pitcher the Sox have to offer.
Farrell’s postgame comment Friday makes the decision seem entirely the manager’s. You’d never expect the manager to say “the closer didn’t love the idea.”
But it’s possible that Kimbrel told Farrell, or another coach, that he doesn’t want to go for a four-out save at this time of year.
If it's for a reason other than something physical, that's just being hard-headed.
Five times last year, Kimbrel recorded four outs or more.
He allowed an earned run in one such appearance, and allowed just one of six inherited runners to score. He took two wins, two saves, and had one blown save/loss.
He didn’t always record those extra outs in situations he could.
Kimbrel was asked, on April 18, 2016 — Patriots' Day — to keep a game tied at 1 in the eighth inning with one out and the bases loaded. He failed in a 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays.
At least he had a chance to fail.
Farrell should want to use him in the eighth inning. And Kimbrel should want to be out there, too. Game 3 isn't too early for one extra out — assuming Kimbrel is indeed healthy.
So who made the call, if health isn't in play: Farrell, Kimbrel or both?