Craig Kimbrel is an eight-time All-Star closer, and he might be in the Hall of Fame one day.
But through Monday, his only ninth-inning appearance with the White Sox was his first one, in a non-save situation against the Indians a day after he was traded from the Cubs. That deadline deal appeared to give the Sox, already set at closer with All-Star Liam Hendriks, a lockdown tandem at the back end of the bullpen.
Does Kimbrel want to close games for the Sox? Of course he does. It’s what born closers live for.
Has he been OK with being primarily a setup man and not having a save since July 25 with the Cubs? He is checking his ego at the Sox’ clubhouse door.
“Sometimes you have to put your ego aside to make the team better,” Kimbrel told the Sun-Times before the Sox beat the A’s 9-0 on Tuesday to go 2-0 in the four-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field.
On Monday, Kimbrel struck out the side in the eighth inning before Hendriks claimed his 27th save by striking out the side in the ninth.
“I’m not a guy of ego,” Kimbrel said. “I signed a deal to close out games for the Chicago Cubs. Because of circumstances, I was traded over here to help this team win, not necessarily to close out every ballgame.
“We’ll see how that goes. We’re going to make this thing work.”
Kimbrel said he was expecting to work the ninth inning Tuesday, but with a blowout unfolding it became increasingly apparent that he and Hendriks would not be needed. The Sox scored five runs in the second inning when A’s starter Chris Bassitt was struck in the head by Brian Goodwin’s 100-mph line drive and had to leave the game. Against reliever Burch Smith, Andrew Vaughn drove in two runs with a single and Jake Lamb hit a three-run homer.
In the fourth, Jose Abreu hit his 25th homer, a three-run shot, and Tim Anderson tripled home catcher Zack Collins in the sixth.
Meanwhile, right-hander Reynaldo Lopez was throwing five innings of scoreless, one-hit ball. While Carlos Rodon is on the 10-day injured list with shoulder fatigue, Lopez has filled in with a three-inning scoreless start against the Twins and Tuesday against the A’s that featured four strikeouts.
An almost forgotten man during the first half of the season spent at Triple-A Charlotte, Lopez lowered his ERA to 1.08 in 11 appearances, including three starts since coming up on July 16.
Manager Tony La Russa could forget about having to use Kimbrel and Hendriks on Tuesday, but it won’t be long before they’re both needed. He has 40 games left to figure out how to best use them in the postseason.
“I’ll definitely get my chance to close out games, but I understand the promise they made to Liam to come here and close out games,” Kimbrel said. “I understand how those things work.”
Hendriks signed a four-year deal in the offseason to be the Sox’ closer. After getting jolted by three Yankees home runs in his previous two games, he said he discovered he was tipping pitches and got it ironed out. Co-existing with Kimbrel won’t have to be ironed out.
It should all work out fine, Kimbrel said.
“He’s been great,” Kimbrel said. “He had his own struggles with a couple tipping things, gave up some home runs, but he’s a pro. He got back out there, fixed what he had going on and struck out the side.”
Kimbrel allowed one homer as a Cub this season but was tagged for long balls by his former team on Aug. 7 (three runs) and the Yankees on Saturday (one), hiking his ERA to 4.70 with the Sox. His other six outings before Tuesday were scoreless.
“There’s some things I can work on,” Kimbrel said, “but overall I’m throwing the ball pretty well.”
Ryan Burr and Mike Wright each pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Lopez as the Sox (70-50), who turned four double plays, won for the second consecutive night in the second game of a four-game series against Oakland (68-51).