What Is Causing Craig Kimbrel’s Recent Struggles? Alex Cora Has A Theory

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Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel

Photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s hard to find anything wrong with the Boston Red Sox right now. They just won their 80th game thanks to another dramatic comeback and lead the American League East by nine games.

That said… Craig Kimbrel has had a pretty rough two weeks.

The Red Sox closer recorded his fourth blown save of the season Tuesday night, allowing a game-tying home run to Toronto Blue Jays slugger Justin Smoak with two outs in the ninth inning. Kimbrel now has allowed at least one run in four of his last five outings dating to July 23, surrendering six hits and five walks in that span. His ERA has ballooned from 1.73 to 2.49.

This stretch is an anomaly for the seven-time All-Star, who pretty much has been dominant all season. So, what’s the issue?

Red Sox manager Alex Cora suggested after Tuesday’s extra-innings win that Kimbrel’s curveball may be the source of his struggles.

“I don’t (know) if it’s an issue but it’s not there since (July 23 at) Baltimore. He’s been struggling with it,” Cora said of Kimbrel’s curveball, via WEEI.com. “His fastball is still there, his velocity is good, location is still good but I think that the breaking ball, you see them foul it off, taking it right away, it seems like they’re recognizing the pitch right away as a ball and they’re not offering.”

Kimbrel has a violent breaking pitch that dives out of the zone, but if hitters can lay off it, they’re in pretty good shape. Such was the case for Smoak, who took three straight Kimbrel curveballs for balls before crushing a 3-0 fastball into the Rogers Centre seats.

Kimbrel wouldn’t pinpoint his deuce as the primary issue but admitted control has been a problem.

“I think it’s been command of everything,” he said after the game. “You can throw strikes but it depends on where you’re throwing them. You can have command in the zone or out of the zone. You kind of float through those as the year goes on. The last couple of weeks I’ve been struggling with some things and working through them.”

Fortunately for Kimbrel, Boston’s incredible offense has rendered his mishaps harmless. The Sox went on to win all four of those outings in which he allowed a run and haven’t lost a game he’s pitched since May 10.

As such, Cora’s confidence in his stud closer isn’t wavering.

“Like everybody else, we’ll get back, take a look at it and we’ll fix him,” Cora said of Kimbrel, “and if we have a save situation he’ll be there (Wednesday).”

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