The All-Star closer showed excellent form in his return to action.
The Boston Red Sox were never concerned with Craig Kimbrel regaining form after his absence from the mound.
Yesterday, Kimbrel proved them right at Fort Meyers.
Kimbrel’s daughter, Lydia Joy, successfully underwent her second heart procedure, but is still recovering. Many wondered if Craig would be mentally sharp once he returned to the mound with his daughter still on his mind.
According to Mass Live’s Christopher Smith, Kimbrel was nasty against the Orioles minor leaguers. In fact, his stuff brought them to laughter after being thoroughly outmatched.
Kimbrel struck out all three batters he faced, retiring two batters swinging and one looking. Out of the 12 pitches he threw, 10 were strikes. Only one of them made contact, fouling off a pitch, before striking out on a curve ball that disappeared into the dirt. Kimbrel didn’t even notice the laughter from the Orioles dugout.
"“No, I was pretty focused,” Kimbrel said. “I tried to stay as locked in as I could.”"
When asked what his response was to the snickers from the O’s dugout, he was satisfied with his performance.
"“I was glad I was able to trick ’em today.”"
Kimbrel recognizes he’s able to be in Florida with the team only because his daughter’s health has improved. It’s been a very tough battle for Lydia Joy, but she is making significant strides back to full health. Knowing she has improved puts Craig’s mind at ease and allows him to focus on baseball.
"“I’m glad I’m able to be down here and do this,” Kimbrel said. “That means my daughter is in a good place. And she continues to do better every day. So for that, I’m thankful.”"
When will Kimbrel’s next appearance be? If the weather cooperates, the closer should see action again soon.
"The plan is for Kimbrel to pitch in games again Sunday and Tuesday. He expects to be ready for the regular season opener Thursday in Tampa Bay.“I think most of it is just coming in tomorrow, seeing how I feel, kind of working through my soreness and things like that and trying to get back to throw again on Sunday,” Kimbrel said."
Of course, these are only minor league hitters that Kimbrel likely won’t see this season. Mowing down three minor leaguers on a sunny afternoon in Fort Meyers, isn’t the same as facing major league competition in the bottom of the ninth with the game on the line.
However, the All-Star closer doesn’t see a potential save situation vs. the Rays any differently than he does in a regular outing in spring training.
"“There’s really nothing I can do to prepare for those situations,” Kimbrel said. “Even if I was down here all spring training there’s only so much you can do. But I took my inning today just as if I was going in there trying to do my job. Every pitch had conviction. I had a purpose for every pitch. I wasn’t just throwing it up there. I’ve got two more. And physically, I like the way the ball was coming out today and how everything looked. It was great.”"
Kimbrel was the best closer in the American League last year, and monitoring the health of his daughter is a difficult way to start the season. But as long as she continues to improve, Kimbrel should be mentally ready for a fresh start to the 2018 season.
While the mental aspect is an important one for major league pitchers, Kimbrel certainly looks physically ready for any challenge on the mound.