Craig Kimbrel, Tony La Russa talk it out, move on

“There are going to be things that happen that sometimes you agree with or disagree with,” Kimbrel said.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — White Sox manager Tony La Russa went out of his way to lament his decision to remove Craig Kimbrel from the 7-5 victory against the Rays on Friday. It kind of took the joy out of the win, he said.

Kimbrel, an eight-time All-Star characterized by La Russa as a Hall of Fame closer, was anything but joyous about being pulled but said he and La Russa talked it over and are moving on.

“We’ve spoken since the other day and gotten things talked out,” Kimbrel said Sunday before the Sox’ 9-0 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. “And I told him how I felt, and he told me how he felt. We move on and get ready to play the next day. That’s part of this game.”

Kimbrel, who was acquired from the Cubs at the trade deadline to give the Sox two of the best closers in the game, has pitched mostly in the eighth inning while Liam Hendriks has handled the ninth. Since arriving, Kimbrel has underwhelmed allowing five runs over nine appearances covering 8„ innings for a 5.40 ERA. Two of the eight hits he has allowed are home runs.

On Friday, Kimbrel’s first seven pitches were balls, putting La Russa on edge. After Kevin Kiermaier lined out, Kimbrel struck out Mike Zunino but not before a stolen base and wild pitch. That’s when La Russa took the ball from Kimbrel and went to lefty Aaron Bummer, who gave up two hits and two walks and recorded one out.

“There are going to be things that happen that sometimes you agree with or disagree with,” Kimbrel said. “But if you can talk about it after the fact and get things worked out, that’s always a positive. I would take it as a positive because we talked, got things worked out and move forward from there. I’m not going to be upset and carry it over into my next outing or the next day or anything like that. We had a great conversation.”

In losing by four and nine runs in the next two games of the series Saturday and Sunday, the Sox provided no next outings for Kimbrel or Hendriks. Sunday’s loss was by the largest margin of the season.

“The game got away in the last half and it was no fun,” La Russa said. “Get your butt beat, that wasn’t fun at all.”

All in all, La Russa’s return to his hometown of Tampa offered little in the way of good times on the field. He suggested after Friday’s game that he put Kimbrel in an unfair spot because he hadn’t pitched in four days and had been away from the team for a day because of his grandfather’s death. The next day he said “it was a win that I didn’t enjoy because he got the wrong message about respect and confidence.”

“I know how great he is,” La Russa said. “And this is a unique situation, to have those two closers, we’re trying to work through them.”

Kimbrel, who was dominant with a 0.49 ERA in 39 games with the Cubs, is adapting to a new environment and searching for his fastball command. Pitching coach Ethan Katz expects it will arrive sooner rather than later.

“I mean, Craig Kimbrel’s fine,” Katz said. “He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball with a great track record. He’s pitching in high-leverage situations, he’s gonna be fine. He’s one of our main guys. He’s going to be a big contributor down the road for us, and down the stretch.”

“Some of the things I’ve been getting beat with are a little bit of command issues,” Kimbrel said, “and kind of the way I’ve been spinning my fastball. But luckily I’ve been able to use my curveball really effectively in those outings until I find my fastball.”

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