It has not been the easiest transition across town for Craig Kimbrel. Things did not get much better on Friday night. With the White Sox nursing, a two-run lead in the eighth inning Tony La Russa opted to go his newest relief pitcher, Craig Kimbrel.
The future Hall of Fame pitcher was the prized piece in a deal that sent Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer to the Cubs. At the time of the trade, Kimbrel owned a microscopic 0.46 ERA while holding opponents to one homer and a .336 OPS. Since being traded Kimbrel has seen mixed results with his new team.
In nine relief appearances with the White Sox, his ERA is 5.40. He has already allowed five runs and a .846 OPS. During a reunion with his former team, he gave up a game-tying home run in the eighth inning. During a tie against the Yankees, he served up another home run to Aaron Judge. He has also watched as Liam Hendriks has gotten the majority of the save opportunities even though his numbers are better.
On Friday Kimbrel made his first appearance since last Monday. Between outings, he was away from the team to attend a family member’s funeral. His tough luck stretch on the mound continued. He walked the leadoff man on four pitches then after inducing a line out, threw a wild pitch allowing the runner to scamper to third. Kimbrel struck out the next hitter but Tony La Russa had seen enough.
He pulled Kimbrel from the game and replaced him with Aaron Bummer. Kimbrel was not happy with this decision. He could be seen shaking his head in disbelief then made his displeasure known as he walked off the mound.
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Bummer proceeded to cough up the lead. He walked the first batter he faced, gave up an RBI single, intentionally walked Nelson Cruz then gave up a bases-loaded single to put the White Sox behind. Kimbrel was charged with an earned run.
Kimbrel’s frustrations are for good reason. His resume has given him the right to work out of his own jam. He has already established himself as one of the greatest closers in baseball history and recently accumulated his 1,000 career strikeout. In a dozen seasons, he has a career 2.11 ERA, eight All-Star appearances, and the most saves among active pitchers to his name.
After the game, Tony La Russa beat himself up over how he handled Craig Kimbrel.
“I’d be hard-pressed to think about winning a great game and enjoying it less than I do right now,” the Hall of Fame skipper said.
He later expressed regret for putting him in the game in the first place.
“The way it turned out was atrocious,” he said. “It’s one of those things where I went in thinking it had been three days since Craig had pitched, one of those days he took the trip for personal reasons. All of a sudden, you throw him in the middle of that.
“You want to try to create fair situations. I kept thinking as he walks the first guy and as he went on- I just kept thinking, ‘This is just not fair.’ I take him out after he strikes out Zunino, and I think it was the totally wrong message to send to him, to think that I and we don’t have confidence.”
“It was not fair for it to develop that way. I thought, ‘He shouldn’t face that guy.’ But when I look back at it, thinking about the potential Hall-of-Fame closer that he is, I sent him the wrong message. If it had worked out, I still send him a bad message. And that’s not what I think of him.
“He’s certainly a key part of what we have going forward. We won the game, and now we’ll try to repair the damage to Craig.”
It is fair to wonder how this will affect Kimbrel moving forward. His resume has given him the benefit of the doubt but his struggles with the Cubs are still in the back of everyone’s mind. But as La Russa during the postgame “He earned that challenge, and I took it away.”
Kimbrel is sure to get more opportunities down the road in high-leverage situations. The White Sox hope the early returns aren’t any indication of what is to come.