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Craig Kimbrel making strong first impression in Sox bullpen

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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It hasn't taken Craig Kimbrel long to show the Chicago White Sox what he can do.

In two appearances out of the new-look South Side bullpen since his acquisition in a Crosstown trade with the Chicago Cubs last week, Kimbrel has dazzled, living up to his reputation as a future Hall of Famer. He's gone 1-2-3 in a pair of lightning-quick, high-leverage innings.

They're the kinds of performances that show why the White Sox felt the need to acquire him for their run at a title.

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"A few weeks ago," general manager Rick Hahn said on deadline day, when Kimbrel was acquired. "Kenny (Williams) and I asked each other, of all the players expected to be moved, let's assume we could only acquire one, who would it be?

"And he and I had the same answer and that was the player we acquired today."

Kimbrel's been around long enough, of course, that he didn't need to do much to prove he can be a go-to guy in the late innings for a team chasing a championship. He ranks ninth on baseball's all-time saves list, has a World Series ring on his finger from his 2018 go-round with the Boston Red Sox and is in the midst of a renaissance season after his first two years on the North Side didn't go so well.

 

With his two scoreless frames in a White Sox uniform, his 2021 ERA is down to a microscopic 0.47.

"I had the opportunity to watch him in Boston," White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who worked in the Red Sox front office during their championship season, said Friday. "And I unfortunately had the chance to watch him in the National League, before when I was still (managing the St. Louis Cardinals).

"I watched him on TV a couple times this year with the Cubs. Looked real good on TV, looks even better in person.

"So it's a real asset. We'd love to be able to have the lead over the weekend, with the guys that we have to close it out."

Kimbrel, of course, was not brought in to play savior, though. He was brought in to team with Liam Hendriks, who signed a huge free-agent deal over the winter to be the White Sox closer, to form a menacing back end of the bullpen to power a deep playoff run.

While some initial reactions to the trade were questions about how a closer timeshare would work between Hendriks and Kimbrel, two of the best ninth-inning men in the game, La Russa assured there'd be no closer controversy. Hendriks loudly stated that there were no egos in the White Sox bullpen and offered his services for any inning, first through ninth.

So far, it's worked out, and it seems the two All Stars are becoming fast friends.

"We're just going out there and doing our job," Kimbrel said Friday. "He's a great energy. It's energy you want to have around, and that kind of energy feeds into everybody else. Can't ever complain about that."

And certainly there were no complaints in the White Sox clubhouse when Kimbrel was the team's splashy deadline addition. While the White Sox weren't thrilled to see teammates Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer dealt to the North Side, Kimbrel was the kind of boost a contender gets in the middle of the summer, a message from the front office that this World Series quest is a serious one.

"They did a very good job, a great job," White Sox first baseman José Abreu said of the front office's efforts through team interpreter Billy Russo. "They had a clear plan. We weren’t aware of that plan until the end. It was good. I think we as players appreciate the effort and job they did. It put us in a very good position.

"I definitely was surprised. Everybody knows the quality of pitcher (Kimbrel) is, the year he was having with the Cubs. He’s better to have him on our side then facing him."

The White Sox got Kimbrel to give their team a boost ahead of a run to — and what they hope is through — October. They've established themselves as contenders without him. Now they hope to move toward favorite status with him.

 

"Winning teams expect to win. I think that's what I've seen so far," Kimbrel said. "Everybody's expecting to win every single night, and that's what winning teams have to do. That expectation can be a good thing. You're going to have to have it when we get to October."

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