As Joe Kelly and Carson Smith struggled to get outs in the eighth inning of the Boston Red Sox’s Opening Day loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, many Red Sox fans were asking the same question.
Where was Craig Kimbrel?
The Sox’s lights out closer did not warm up as the two other relievers melted down and allowed six runs in the frame, squandering Boston’s 4-0 advantage.
Following the game, manager Alex Cora indicated that there was no concern over the flamethrower’s readiness, but instead they had a plan mapped out for when he would be used.
“I’m not going to put him in that spot right now,” Cora told reporters, via MassLive. “We feel he’s ready, but I don’t think it’s fair for him to come in in a situation and it’s not a clean inning. It’s something that we map it out, we talk about it and we stick to it.”
While it would have been easy to blow up the plan and try to mitigate the trainwreck that was unfolding at Tropicana Field, the rookie manager tried to keep perspective.
It was game one of 162, and while Cora might soon go to Kimbrel in those situations, he did not want to deviate from Thursday’s plan.
“For what we’re trying to accomplish here, we need him for the long run and not just be one out on Opening Day,” Cora said. “So if that situation presents probably later, and we’re talking about 15 days or something like that, or before when he’s really ready, he’ll be in that situation.”
Kimbrel had an abbreviated spring training so he could be with his daughter Lydia as she underwent her second heart surgery. He appeared just twice during camp games, and Cora made sure to reiterate that he wanted the closer to have a clean inning, and that a less-than-ideal circumstance wasn’t going to change that.
“I’m not going to change my mind because there’s a lot of stuff going on out there,” Cora said. “We’ve got a plan and we’ve got to take care of the players. And that’s the way we’re going to take care of him, especially now. We know what he went through. Short spring training. He’s ready to pitch. But we’re not going to jeopardize his health just because there’s traffic in the eighth inning.”
In the moment, it is easy for an observer to second-guess and wonder what would have happened had Kimbrel gone in. But on the flipside, it shows good composure from Cora to try and let his plan play out early in the season while also demonstrating some confidence in his pitchers.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images
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