Just as Craig Kimbrel was beginning to look like his old self, he recorded his first blown save of the season.
He’d come close before. But in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss to the Reds, in Game 2 of a doubleheader at Great American Ball Park on Saturday evening, Kimbrel entered the game with a one run lead and watched the winning run cross the plate on a wild pitch.
“Craig’s been trending in the right direction up to this point,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We’ve got to give him credit for that. It wasn’t his best night, obviously, tonight.”
In the end, the walks would prove to be his biggest mistakes. Kimbrel gave Curt Casali a free pass in five pitches to lead off the seventh and final inning of Saturday's second game.
Two batters later, Kimbrel walked Nicholas Castellanos, also in five pitches. That put a runner in scoring position for when Aristides Aquino poked a bloop single into shallow center field.
“I haven’t been giving up a lot of hard line drives, a lot of hard contact,” Kimbrel said. “That’s one of the things I was trying to get away from. But obviously tonight, you can't put guys on, you can’t throw wild pitches. That came back to get me.”
The redeeming parts of Kimbrel’s outing were a pair of strikeouts, which ended with Mark Payton and Mike Moustakas whiffing at curve balls for strike three.
“If I didn’t have my curveball tonight,” Kimbrel said, “I wouldn’t have been able to get the two strikeouts that I did.”
But they didn’t end up making a difference. With two outs and the bases loaded – Kimbrel intentionally walked Eugenio Suarez – Kimbrel threw a ball in the dirt. It slipped under the mitt of Willson Contreras as the catcher tried to block the wild pitch. Castellanos slid across home plate to claim the win.
Kimbrel’s performance wasn’t his worst of the season. His first outing at Cincinnati, in which he walked four batters and allowed two runs in just 1/3 of an inning, took the cake. But the Cubs still won that game.
Heading into Saturday, Kimbrel had strung together five scoreless and hitless outings.
Was Saturday a step back or part of the process as Kimbrel worked through mechanical issues?
“I don't think you ever want to want to call a blown save and losing the game a part of the process,” Kimbrel said. “But also I wouldn’t call it a step back either.”