BOSTON — The marriage of Craig Kimbrel and the ninth inning is unlikely to change this season, based on the way manager John Farrell spoke Saturday afternoon.
It’s unfortunate that relationship is so committed. Because there are few moments that leave you wondering “What if?” like keeping a reliever who is so much better than everyone out of a game during an eighth-inning collapse, because that pitcher just has to pitch the ninth inning.
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Would Farrell use Kimbrel in the eighth inning but not the ninth, foregoing a save?
“I wouldn’t rule it out, but part of the way our bullpen is constructed and the way it’s been extremely successful, I mean if, for instance, if we’re talking hypotheticals here and if we didn’t have a bullpen that was ranked going into last night the best in baseball, something has been working pretty darn well,” Farrell said Saturday. “So, that’s to say I have complete confidence in every guy that’s in that bullpen and as establishing roles is important to that, I think staying consistent with it is part of that success.”
This is not a condition unique to the Red Sox. Not at all. Come playoff time, assuming the Sox make it, maybe there’s greater leniency.
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But saves come in the ninth, from finishing out games. Closers get saves. Kimbrel is a closer.
Farrell believes in the benefit of bullpen roles. Undoubtedly, routine and structure are beneficial. But the implication that Kimbrel pitching the eighth inning could not be incorporated into routine or structure doesn’t really hold up. If Addison Reed’s innings are flexible and Matt Barnes' are as well, Kimbrel’s could be too.
Farrell’s done a good job with the bullpen this year. The relievers themselves deserve more credit than anyone. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.