Monday night marked Craig Kimbrel’s first blown save of the year and his third poor outing of the 2014. He’s still 5 for 6 in save opportunities, but he’s posted some very un-Kimbrel-like numbers in April. In 7.1 innings pitched, he’s allowed 7 hits, 3 ER (another unearned), one hit batsmen, and three walks. His ERA is a bloated 3.68, whereas last year at the end of April it was just 1.69.
The trouble started back on April 9th against the Mets. With a four run lead and two runners on base, Kimbrel was called on to get the final two outs of the game. By walking his first batter and giving up a pair of base hits, Kimbrel allowed both inherited runs to score, as well as an earned run of his own. He managed to settle down and get a couple clutch strikeouts to salvage the win, earning a save despite three runs crossing in the ninth. At the time, this appeared to be an anomaly, a single blip on the radar that failed to register as a serious threat to our dominant closer, especially since he returned to the mound two days later and scorched the heart of the Gnat’s lineup with three straight Ks.
He made consecutive appearances in Washington for the first time since the two first games of the season, and then we didn’t see Kimbrel for a week. The news of his shoulder soreness spread slowly, with rumors swirling of a more serious injury, and his availability was questioned every night. When he did return to the mound, Saturday against the Mets, he had one of the worst performances of his career. He hit Eric Young with a pitch, gave up consecutive hits, allowed two runs and loaded the bases before getting yanked. His wasn’t missing with borderline pitches, either; when he missed, he missed by a clear margin. Props to Fredi, by the way, for taking Kimbrel out of the ballgame. It was the right move, even though it upset a lot of people, none more so than Kimbrel himself, who later apologized for his reaction.
Monday against the Marlins, Kimbrel blew the save but actually looked much better. He gave up just one hit and one walk. Another runner reached on catcher’s interference, making the one run unearned. And Craig reached back and pulled out three consecutive strikeouts to keep the ballgame tied, giving his team a chance to win. And when Gattis cashed in on that chance, it had to take a lot of pressure off of Kimbrel. It’s one thing to blow a save, it’s anther thing all together to cost your team a win.
We expect perfection from Kimbrel. He’s been all but untouchable for his entire career, and we expect him to shut down every hitter on every team every time. It’s hard for us to see him look human. We don’t know how to react. If you listened to Monday night’s radio broadcast, you know what I mean. Even as he was getting into a jam and losing the lead, Jim Powell and Mark Lemke agreed there is no good approach for a hitter facing Kimbrel than to just guess and swing.
Like anyone else, Kimbrel is going to struggle at times, but these latest troubles are no reason to sound the alarm. He’s still throwing hard, piquing around 98, consistent at 95, and commanding both the fastball and the curveball for strikes. He only lost his composure once, and only after he was pulled from the game. As long as he can ward off the shoulder soreness and pitch on a regular basis, Craig should be back to his old self in no time.