Craig Kimbrel

The Baseball Show Podcast: How should Red Sox be using Craig Kimbrel?

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The Baseball Show Podcast: How should Red Sox be using Craig Kimbrel?

Here is The Baseball Show Podcast, brought to you by Twin River Casino.

1:11 - Evan Drellich and Lou Merloni break down the Red Sox most recent loss to the Oakland Athletics and debate how Alex Cora should be using Craig Kimbrel.

7:28 - With Mookie Betts off to a roaring start to the season, Lou and Evan are left wondering if he has reverted to his 2016 form or if he'll fall off as the season progresses.

12:13 - With the weather wreaking havoc on teams' schedules in April, Lou and Evan look at some potential adjustments the league could make to the schedule: less games, more double headers and even longer playoffs.

Drellich: Dombrowski deserves credit for Sox' hot start no matter how expensive the roster is

Drellich: Dombrowski deserves credit for Sox' hot start no matter how expensive the roster is

BOSTON — In this unmitigated age of tanking, it’s important to recognize teams and executives who not only strive to make the playoffs annually, but actually do so.

Money is a prerequisite for those teams, naturally. The Red Sox are case in point. And what’s the skill in winning with a large pile of money, you wonder?

Well, turn the question around: what’s the skill in tanking? If you can’t win after losing for several years, if you can’t find success after stockpiling talent and shedding contracts, you probably aren’t cut out to be a general manager in any circumstance.

The Red Sox’ 13-2 start is owed to many people, many choices. New manager Alex Cora has the right brew so far. New hitting coach Tim Hyers is the conductor on the launch-angle train. There’s good health and improved chemistry and the LeVangie Advantage. 

You've even witnessed some good luck. Three grand slams to begin this season compared to zero for all of 2017 has something to do with the Baseball Gods.

Yet, no matter how you build your pie chart for April’s bloom, the boss who put the pieces in place, Dave Dombrowski, needs credit. Who hired the manager, after all? Who presides over all of this?

The money discussion is relevant, but just one part of the picture. 

Four years ago, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman misheard a question I asked him. Perhaps I mumbled it. Either way, it leads to a poignant quote.

I was trying to ask if Cashman ever looked at the tanking teams and said to himself, boy, I wish I could do it that way.

Cashman didn’t hear that question — probably because, for so long, he’s heard people say they wish they could do it his way. Meaning, with a ton of money. 

He told me what he would tell those people.

"This is a very fast-moving Ferrari," Cashman said. "And in many cases, those same people who talk that talk would be an insect smashing against the windshield and getting splattered all over the place because they can't believe the amount of velocity that this car is moving at."

(If you're keeping track, the GM of the Yankees suggested some GMs are bugs whose guts would explode everywhere were they in his shoes. Carry on.) 

"You have to manage and deal with expectations, and that's a big thing," Cashman continued. "It's a lot of pressure when you're expected to win on a daily basis. So yeah, it's an easy thing to throw around all the time about, 'I wish I could do it that way.' We have the ability because of our market. If something's broke, you go out and fix it. And we're lucky for that; I'm thankful for that. But it doesn't come without heavy lifting.”

Dombrowski’s driving a pretty fast car too.

His Red Sox are carrying the highest payroll in baseball. He had high-priced teams in his time in Detroit as well.

Cora’s success is still Dombrowski’s. After the clubhouse issues that arose a year ago, Dombrowski chose not to make major changes to the roster aside from adding J.D. Martinez. He appears to have read the situation, and solution, correctly.

Dombrowski has not spent every dollar he’s been allotted with the greatest efficiency. But Dombrowski also hasn’t made any major gaffes. He didn’t sign Pablo Sandoval, or Rusney Castillo. He inherited them. (The jury is out on David Price’s $217 million deal.)

Dombrowski arrived in Boston with a mandate to get the Sox back into contention. The day he was introduced, he harped on adding pitching. He came through, with moves that hurt the farm system but also carried serious upside — not only in terms of performance, but flexibility.

Look at Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale, whom Dombrowski acquired on team-friendly contracts. Dombrowski may not be a wizard at creating roster flexibility, but adding some stars on below-market contracts goes a long way. Those acquisitions allow for others. Even the new clean-up hitter, Martinez, was a relative bargain.

A lot can change. Dombrowski built a good bullpen a year ago, but this year’s is likely going to need a midseason upgrade. The holes don’t disappear because the Sox are off to a scorching start. But the success shouldn’t either. 

Dombrowski’s spent a lot of money. He hasn’t spent it perfectly. The Sox don't appear as well positioned as the Yankees in the long run. But if you look at the team's 13-2 record and look past the president of baseball operations, you’re forgetting how fast that Ferrari can go — and that not every GM is equipped to drive it in the first place.
 

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Drellich: Game 2 win meant so much to three men

Drellich: Game 2 win meant so much to three men

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The culmination of so much for three men — Craig Kimbrel, Alex Cora and David Price — poured out in one night in front of fewer than 20,000 people Friday.

Like many intimidating forces of nature with a baseball in their hand, Kimbrel almost never looks shaken. He is the aggressor, a symbol of composure

The potential Hall of Famer acknowledged after the Red Sox first win of the season that he is more emotional than we may see.

“Just not with y’all,” he said, smiling.

Kimbrel on Friday recorded his first save since the birth of his daughter, Lydia, who is recovering in the hospital after a heart procedure. The score was 1-0, the Rays’ Nos. 2-3-4 hitters were up, and Kimbrel struck out them all. He barely had spring training, returning to Boston to be by Lydia’s side. The Sox want to ease him in. He looked like he could finish out an All-Star Game.

“Huge,” pitching coach Dana LeVangie said, himself looking like he was trying to process the balance of life and baseball that unfolded before him Friday. “Because of what he went through all spring training and most of last year, leading up to the end of the year. He knew [Lydia would be born with a heart condition]. But he never let anyone know, or let on to that.”

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His wife and daughter watched the game, although bottle time, Kimbrel said, probably came before watching dad pitch.

“I was definitely thinking about her,” Kimbrel said. “Absolutely. I think I might have a hard time not doing that.

“Baseball's still the same, it's life that's different. … My purpose away from this game has definitely changed.”

***

David Price made his name at Tropicana Field, where he spent so many years dominating, smiling. He sullied his name in 2017 in Boston, losing his composure as his arm betrayed him, his world caving in because of an elbow injury and matters he’s only vaguely alluded to. 

In his first start in a new year — new is the operative word for Price — he did not have his curveball. He was limited to only 76 pitches. And the southpaw was still marvelous for seven shutout innings, walking none, allowing just four hits. 

When Chris Sale was added to the Red Sox rotation, the dream for fans was a 1-2 punch that could look unstoppable. Price was hurt. He was a reliever in the playoffs. A year later, the dream can be realized. Sale and Price combined for 13 shutout innings in the first two games of the season.

“All five of us,” Price said of the rotation. “I’m excited to see what Eddy [Rodriguez is] going to do. To me, he’s been our best pitcher in spring training just watching him throw in bullpens and watching him throw on the backfields. I think we’re all excited to see Eddy. But if all five of our starters can have, not even great years, just have good years, I think we can do something really special.”

The tide is turning toward pitching, not something else that rhymes with it. Price struck out five, spotting his cutter. He was in a good mood in spring training, an equally good mood after this first outing. A pitcher who lost his way took another step on the path to redemption Friday.

“A huge step for David Price, because as he told us, probably the second week of March, he got over a hump in spring training and he felt tremendous,” LeVangie said. “And the first time he felt that way in a long time. Big time. Big time for our team, big time for him. Really important.”

***

Alex Cora was drenched, not from sweat, but booze. They got him in the shower — the veteran pitchers made sure the rookie manager didn’t escape his first win without the alcoholic equivalent of a Gatorade bath.

The new skipper didn’t have the easiest day Friday. A night earlier, during his first game at the helm, a 4-0 lead slipped away in the eighth inning. His bullpen moves were immediately picked apart.

A day later, the first Puerto Rican manager in Red Sox history recorded a victory not only for a franchise, but for his country.

“I think about my dad,” Cora said. “He passed away when I was 13 and how important he was. [My brother] Joey and the 25 people that are here. And my mom back home, I bet she’s going nuts right now. 

“For how bad it was yesterday, this is awesome. A 1-0 game. I’ve really had both ends of the spectrum. I’m happy, but more happy for those guys: David bouncing back, having a good outing. Kimbrel on the mound. It’s great.”

Ron Roenicke, Cora’s veteran bench coach, was once a big league manager. The feeling he recalled from his first victory: relief.

“You do all these things in spring, and you think you’ve done everything right,” Roenicke said. “And everything is going smooth. You want to come out and win the first one, and when you don’t, it just kind of goes up into the next. The farther you go, the tougher it gets.”

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