The Boston Red Sox haven’t had the best luck with new bullpen acquisitions, as Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith can attest.
But Craig Kimbrel has done everything in his power of late to change that narrative.
The Red Sox closer was lights-out again Monday, mowing down three Tampa Bay Rays batters to earn the save in Boston’s 4-3 Patriots’ Day win at Fenway Park. It was Kimbrel’s fifth save of the season and third in as many days, as the hard-throwing right-hander became the first Red Sox pitcher to notch three saves in a single series since Mike Timlin in 2006.
Kimbrel has experienced some bumps in the road since joining Boston in November 2015, posting a 2-6 record with a 3.40 ERA last season while battling a knee injury. But the 28-year-old finally appears to be hitting his stride.
“He’s probably in the best spot he’s been from a delivery standpoint in the year-plus that he’s been here,” manager John Farrell told reporters in a postgame press conference aired on NESN.
Indeed, Kimbrel seems to have harnessed his occasionally wild fastball, combining it with a lethal curveball to rack up 12 strikeouts while walking just two in seven innings pitched. He still hasn’t blown a save at Fenway Park, either, improving to 22-for-22 in home save opportunities after Monday’s win.
Kimbrel has been called upon often this season, picking up the save in six of Boston’s eight wins. But his strong work ethic has helped him answer the call.
“If you see the work that he puts in after he pitches, he keeps himself in tremendous shape,” Farrell added. “And I think on those days on which he is pitching the third day, it’s when he’s been efficient, much like we saw (Monday): good command, good location, his curveballs for strikes.
“You complement (an) upper-90s (fastball) with a well-above average curveball — he’s in a good spot.”
Let’s hit a few other notes from the Red Sox’s win on Marathon Monday:
— Steven Wright finally got back on track, settling down after a tumultuous first inning to notch his first win of the season. And it turns out the knuckleballer, who was coming off arguably the worst start of his career last Thursday, got a little help over the weekend from former Red Sox knuckleball expert Tim Wakefield.
“Wake was happy to be here this week(end), so I definitely was talking to him constantly over the last four or five days,” Wright told reporters after the game, as aired on NESN. “Just trying to bounce some things off him, just trying to get back into that rhythm and timing that I had last year. He’s helped me out tremendously.”
— Boston’s bullpen hasn’t always been a strength of late, but it did the job Monday, as four pitchers combined to strike out seven Rays over the final three innings. The solid relief effort helped the Red Sox improve to 6-2 this season in games decided by two runs or fewer.
— The Sox seem to enjoy playing on Patriots’ Day in Boston. (Then again, who wouldn’t?) Monday’s win improved them to 70-52 on the Massachusetts holiday and 12-5 in their last 17 Marathon Monday matinees.
— The victory also afforded Boston’s outfield another chance to work on its dance moves. Nice footwork, Andrew Benintendi.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images