His Red Sox career got off to a somewhat disappointing start in 2016, but Craig Kimbrel returned to elite form last season. The right-hander tapped into a bit of extra velocity and that helped him boost his strikeout rate by more than two per nine to 16.4. Best of all, he dramatically lowered his walk rate, shaving it from a career-high 5.1 BB/9 to a career-low 1.8 BB/9. Kimbrel was hit hard at times -- he allowed a 39.1 percent hard-hit rate and 91.4 mph average exit velocity -- but that's not a big deal when you allow so few batted balls in play (110 batted-ball events). An uptick in velocity can sometimes be a precursor to injury, but Kimbrel has been incredibly durable throughout his career, and with the skills bouncing back, Kimbrel has a clear case to go ahead of every reliever not named Kenley Jansen.
Kimbrel will stay with the Red Sox in 2018 after the club picked up his $13 million option Thursday, Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe reports. The closer will remain in Boston for at least another year after posting a 1.43 ERA and 0.68 WHIP over 69 innings in the 2017 regular season. Chris Sale's option was also picked up by the team Thursday, as the Red Sox begin preparing for the 2018 campaign.
Kimbrel allowed a hit and struck out one in a scoreless ninth inning Friday against the Astros in a non-save situation. The star closer hadn't pitched in a game for five days, so the Red Sox opted to use him in an effort to keep the team just one run behind. Kimbrel did need 15 pitches (11 strikes) to complete the frame, but it likely won't jeopardize his availability for Saturday's contest if a save situation arises. He now holds a 1.32 ERA and an absurd 16.3 K/9 on the season to go with his 35 saves.
Kimbrel struck out one in a clean inning of work to earn his 35th save of the season Sunday against the Reds. Kimbrel pumped in 11 of 17 pitches for strikes as he comfortably retired the side in order. He's thrown 11 straight scoreless outings to lower his ERA to a stellar 1.34, in addition to a remarkable 16.4 K/9.
Kimbrel pitched a scoreless inning on one hit to earn his 34th save of the season Friday against the Reds. Kimbrel was protecting a one-run lead, and despite giving up a hit, was able to close out the contest on just eight pitches. With a microscopic 1.36 ERA on the season, he continues to be one of the elite closers in the majors.
Kimbrel struck out one in a scoreless ninth inning to extend Tuesday's game into extra innings, where Boston eventually defeated Baltimore, 1-0. Kimbrel has been used two consecutive nights in the same non-save situation: the ninth inning of a tied game. Overall, he's pitched five times in the last six days, so it wouldn't be surprising if he gets a night off in the series finale Wednesday.