Every time Craig Kimbrel gets roughed up, it reminds everyone just how good he is. The shock and unexpectedness of such an event reinforces that. The first three full years of his career compare favorably to just about any three-year stretch by a reliever in baseball history. Even though the Atlanta Braves‘ closer has been knocked around twice in his last four outings, the Braves have nothing to worry about.
Kimbrel began the season with three-straight perfect outings, striking out six of the nine batters he faced. After five days of rest, he made his next appearance against the New York Mets. He entered the game with one out in the ninth and two men on base. Kimbrel walked the leadoff man and allowed two base hits, allowing three runs to score before striking out Reuben Tejada to end the game.
He followed that outing with two easy appearances against the Washington Nationals. However, Kimbrel reportedly experienced shoulder soreness after the Nationals series and was kept in the bullpen to rest. He returned after seven days of rest to again face the Mets, and again the result was atypical for Kimbrel. The normally-dominant closer was pulled after giving up two runs and then loading the bases. He was visibly frustrated when he walked off the mound, partly because he was not allowed to finish the game and partly because of his own poor performance.
His two rough outings against the Mets appeared to be due to rust more than any lingering shoulder problem. His fastball velocity was actually up compared to appearances he made earlier in the month. His curveball still had the same sharp break it usually has. The issue was his command. He left pitches out over the heart of the plate and gave up three hits. He also hit one batter and walked another.
Assuming the shoulder soreness is behind him, getting back on a consistent schedule will help him regain his command and the dominance the Braves are accustomed to.