It’s never “easy” to hit Craig Kimbrel, but the Boston Red Sox closer is far less difficult to face if you have an idea what pitch is coming.
That apparently was the case in both the American League Division Series and League Championship Series, as Kimbrel struggled at times versus both the New York Yankees and Houston Astros.
On Tuesday night in Game 1 of the World Series, however, Kimbrel looked like a new man, shutting down the Los Angeles Dodgers in dominant fashion as Boston locked up Game 1.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora revealed after the Red Sox won the pennant that Kimbrel might have been tipping his pitches earlier in the playoffs.
Pitch tipping wasn’t Kimbrel’s only problem in the earlier rounds. His command was awful, too. But Kimbrel has been able to get away with subpar command in the past, in large part because his stuff is just so good. If teams can lay off that biting slider, it puts the hitter in a much better position.
With some help from former All-Star closer Eric Gagne, Cora and the Red Sox helped Kimbrel fixed that issue. As John Smoltz mentioned on the FOX broadcast, Kimbrel’s issue had something to do with his hand placement when he came set.
Kimbrel made the necessary change, and the early returns have been excellent. Kimbrel threw 13 pitches — 10 strikes — while striking out two in a dominant inning Tuesday night.
And just looking at some of the swings against Kimbrel, it was clear the Dodgers had no idea what was coming.
Third baseman Justin Turner looked a little better, laying off a couple of tough breaking pitches, but he ultimately succumbed to a 97 mph fastball, swinging at a pitch that almost hit him in the hands.
Again, when you have to guess against Kimbrel, you have little chance of doing anything.
“Mentally, it has to be tough when you make quality pitches and guys are taking pitches,” Cora told reporters after the game. “We go back to that Game 4 (of the ALDS) in New York, he had Didi (Gregorius) on a 0-2 count, he gets a hit. Gary was down 0-2, and he took some great breaking balls. And then throughout the series with the Astros, there were some great takes. I talk about tipping and stealing signs and all that, but there were some really good takes. And all of a sudden his hands are somewhere else, and they’re not taking that breaking ball.
“So for him, he has to feel good about it. His stuff was great (Tuesday), too. So like I said after Game 5 in Houston, we were very comfortable with Craig Kimbrel and he’s going to get the ball in close games.”
After not having a dominant Kimbrel through two rounds of the playoffs, the Red Sox have to feel great knowing the “old” Kimbrel should be back, especially when they’re only three games away from a World Series title.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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