The Red Sox have lost prized closer Craig Kimbrel until August at the earliest and possibly until September because of a bad step he took in the outfield during batting practice on Friday.
Kimbrel will undergo surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee tomorrow, forcing him to miss 3-6 weeks and manager John Farrell said Koji Uehara (saves Friday and yesterday) will be the team’s closer in Kimbrel’s absence. Newly acquired reliever Brad Ziegler, who arrived in Boston yesterday after a late-night deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, would inherit the role if Uehara is unavailable.
“Any time there’s an injury you’re going to be frustrated,” Kimbrel said. “I was just in the outfield during BP and took a step for a ball that was a ground ball that was hit. I took a step, heard a pop and didn’t think it was anything serious until I got in, evaluated it, got the MRI, saw what it was.”
Kimbrel is on the 15-day disabled list with a left medial meniscus tear. There was no pre-existing knee condition prior to the misstep, Farrell said.
Kimbrel has never previously been on the disabled list.
“I was walking out, into my box to watch the game, saw a little bit before 7 (p.m.), and I was told that he had hurt his knee, so it was really out of the blue,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “Didn’t sound great, realistically. They said it could be a situation where it could be all right.”
There was at least the possibility Kimbrel could have recovered without surgery, but that was deemed too risky.
“They could identify that there is a situation (where the problem) could get out of the joint and tomorrow he could wake up and be fine,” Dombrowski said. “I wasn’t wagering on those odds when I heard them. But it was apparent to me, in talking to Craig after the game, getting the medical information — this is not something you want to take a chance on.
“He said, ‘I think I might be able to go out there and pitch the way it is.’ You don’t want Craig Kimbrel to go out there and alter his delivery and be in a position where he hurts his knee more. But also, hurts his arm. So, we ended up deciding really we would wait ’til (yesterday morning) to make a final decision. But it’s still bothering him.”
Kimbrel confirmed he was considering trying to pitch through the injury.
“I felt like I could go out there and pitch and kind of go through the pain,” he said. “It’s something that I wouldn’t say is structural. It’s something, if I could get past the pain, I could get on the field and do it. Looking where we are in the season and what could come of it going out there and trying to pitch through it, it might change my mechanics or put more stress on my arm or other places where we really don’t want to do that. So I made the decision this morning to clean it up, take the few weeks.
“We’re just looking to take the safe route on this.”
Regardless of whether it takes three weeks or six, will he fully be back as his dominant self? He’s encouraged that will be the case.
“I can’t get on the mound with me being uncomfortable and changing my mechanics or anything like that,” Kimbrel said. “There’s no doubt in my mind once it gets taken care of, once it gets to the strength it needs to be, everything else will be fine. I’m still going to be able to throw, play catch a little bit. So losing a few weeks of not getting off the mound, I don’t think it will affect me arm-wise too much because I’m still going to be able to throw.”
Kimbrel was named to the American League All-Star team but, of course, will not be going to San Diego even to watch Tuesday’s game. Head team orthopedist Dr. Peter Asnis will perform the surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Pitchers don’t field fly balls during batting practice strictly for fun. They get cardio work in. Still, do pitchers need to be out there? Steven Wright suffered a concussion in 2015 because of a fly ball that hit him during sprints.
As it relates to Kimbrel’s injury, where he was running might have made no difference. He said he might reconsider the merits of shagging fly balls — but he wasn’t running full bore or hit by a ball.
“If I would have done it shagging fly balls, maybe,” Kimbrel said. “But I just took a step. It was unfortunate timing.”