Craig Kimbrel revealed that his surgically repaired knee remains sore, leaving us to wonder if the Boston Red Sox closer returned too soon.
Something was very clearly wrong with Craig Kimbrel last night, as the closer for the Boston Red Sox never looked quite right on the mound.
Trusted to protect a comfortable three-run lead against a weak New York Yankees lineup, Kimbrel managed to turn a near certain win into a nail-biter. After striking out the first batter he faced, Kimbrel quickly lost control.
Managers never want to give their closer the hook when a save opportunity is still on the line, but John Farrell was left with no choice after Kimbrel walked his fourth batter of the inning to push a run across the plate and put the winning run on base. It was the first time in his career that he has issued four walks in an inning, bringing his season total to 20 free passes in only 36 innings. He has been unusually wild compared to previous seasons, but nothing like what we witnessed Tuesday.
One ugly outing can be brushed off as nothing more than a bad night, but Kimbrel’s post-game comments are the greater concern. In the wake of one of his worst outings of the season, Kimbrel revealed to reporters that he is still battling soreness in his surgically repaired knee.
"“When you’re sore, does it affect you?,” Kimbrel asked rather rhetorically. “I wouldn’t say it affected me in my performance, but I definitely, it’s something I’m going to have to battle with until it’s all gone. I’m still four weeks out of surgery. I’m good enough to pitch, I’m good enough to play, but it’s not going to affect me each and every night.”"
Kimbrel doesn’t want to use his recovering knee as an excuse, but it’s clearly still affecting him. Or at least it did last night.
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That wasn’t the case in his previous two appearances since his return from the disabled list to begin the month. Kimbrel struck out the side, albeit with a walk mixed in, to lock down his 18th save of the season in his return on August 1. Three days later he retired all four batters he faced, striking out three of them to earn the win.
The initial timetable following knee surgery pegged Kimbrel’s return at somewhere between 3-6 weeks. He ended up coming back at the early spectrum of that time frame. The Red Sox placed him on the disabled list on July 9 with a medial meniscus tear in his left knee, with the surgery to repair the injury occurring two days later. That put his return exactly three weeks from the date of his surgery. Apparently he couldn’t wait to get back on the mound, but perhaps he should have.
Some nights the knee bothers him, other nights it’s more manageable. Either way it’s a battle, one that he lost last night as the knee prevented him from finding a comfort zone on the mound. These situations could potentially have been avoided if he had waited for his knee to get stronger before coming back, but with the Red Sox caught in a tight division race he was understandably eager to get back out there to help the team.
The Red Sox still managed to come away with the victory when Matt Barnes bailed him out by retiring the final batter of the game, but that does little to ease the concern over Kimbrel’s messy appearance.
Kimbrel could have played it safe by delaying his return until he was certain his knee could handle the strain. Instead he rolled the dice to come back as quickly as possible, ignoring the potential risk of a setback. Now he’ll deal with the ramifications of that decision, hoping that he can bounce back to the dominant closer he was before rather than bouncing back to the disabled list.