Tony La Russa has plenty of time to figure out what’s best for Kimbrel, Hendriks, White Sox
There is a month and change left for La Russa to figure out how best to use the two premier closers he’ll have at his disposal during the postseason.
There is a month and change left for White Sox manager Tony La Russa to figure out how best to use the two premier closers he’ll have at his disposal during the postseason.
Craig Kimbrel said he has figured out what was preventing him from pitching like the Hall of Fame-caliber closer he had been before coming to the Sox from the Cubs in a deal at the trade deadline. He emphatically said his problems were about delivery, mechanics and grips and nothing about how La Russa has used him — primarily in the somewhat-unfamiliar territory of the eighth inning — with American League saves leader and incumbent Liam Hendriks continuing to get the bulk of the work in the ninth.
Both pitchers have said they are cool with whatever role it takes to hoist a World Series trophy in November. And there’s a good chance La Russa, who built his reputation and résumé in part on defining specific roles for relief pitchers early in his Hall of Fame career, will plug them into the right spots when it all matters most.
‘‘I mean, the trick is having them divide the work, so to speak,’’ La Russa said before the Sox’ series opener Friday against the Cubs at Guaranteed Rate Field. ‘‘And that’s tricky.’’
They say if you have two closers, you don’t have any. But that’s not the case if they are Kimbrel and Hendriks, who signed a $54 million contract with the Sox after being named AL Reliever of the Year in 2020. The Sox have two.
‘‘Well, it’s never been done that I know of,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘I’ve been asked about having two great closers together like this. The difference is Craig was having a great, great year with another team, and now he joins us. And they both said the right thing all the time: They can pitch at any time.
‘‘As long as what they say is what they mean — which I don’t question, I know it’s true — they want to get us to October and have a real chance to be the last team standing. So whatever it takes, they’re ready to do.’’
Remember, La Russa hasn’t had the real Kimbrel at his disposal yet. La Russa, pitching coach Ethan Katz and assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler, who oversees the bullpen, are figuring out how best to use them both, and it will look better when Kimbrel is being Kimbrel, not the reliever who gave up three runs against the Cubs on Aug. 6 and was scored on in three of his previous four appearances before Thursday.
Expect them both to collect saves. But if it behooves the Sox having Hendriks getting most of them or vice versa, La Russa will figure it out.
‘‘We’ll see how the next couple of weeks play out,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said. ‘‘The fact is, they’re both, obviously, extraordinarily capable of getting outs in high-leverage situations. That’s why they’re both here. I don’t make as much of what inning the individual is pitching [as] what the results have been.’’
Postseason games are won or lost in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings, and Hahn and La Russa like the bullpen as constructed, with right-handers Michael Kopech and Ryan Tepera and left-handers Garrett Crochet and Aaron Bummer getting the ball to Hendriks and Kimbrel.
‘‘We have multiple quality arms to get the most important outs over the next several weeks,’’ Hahn said.
And multiple closers. What a good problem to have.