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Kimbrel dominant in surprise finale appearance

Velazquez sharp after earning rotation nod; Devers will be ready for Opening Day
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Craig Kimbrel's abbreviated Spring Training ended with an impromptu and dominant inning in Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Cubs.

When the day started, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Kimbrel wouldn't pitch in the final exhibition game and would instead throw "an aggressive bullpen."

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Craig Kimbrel's abbreviated Spring Training ended with an impromptu and dominant inning in Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Cubs.

When the day started, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Kimbrel wouldn't pitch in the final exhibition game and would instead throw "an aggressive bullpen."

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But Kimbrel had a change of heart a couple of hours before the game and asked for the ball.

It's understandable why. The righty had only pitched in one Grapefruit League game due to the fact he spent three weeks in Boston with his daughter, Lydia Joy, while she recovered from heart surgery.

Kimbrel just wanted to feel a bit sharper before he takes the ball for the first time for real, which could be on Thursday when the Red Sox open their season at Tropicana Field against the Rays.

"He didn't feel the ball was coming out of the hand the way he wanted in the first one," said Cora. "Today he did. Good fastball, good breaking ball."

In his 1-2-3 fifth inning, Kimbrel struck out two and threw just 11 pitches.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I think it went well, it definitely did," Kimbrel said. "My breaking ball was good today. I still have a few clicks on my fastball to find, but overall I was able to command the ball and got my breaking ball over for strikes and was able to get some bite when I needed to. I think if I can take anything out of today, it would be getting good spin off my breaking ball and throwing it a lot on 0-2."

One other spinoff of Kimbrel's shortened Spring Training is that it will impact the way Cora uses him earlier in the season.

Cora had talked about being more liberal about bringing Kimbrel on for high-leverage situations in the eighth inning when the other team has the meat of the order at the plate. For now, however, look for Kimbrel to pitch exclusively in the ninth.

"We'll reassess that later in the season," said Cora. "We have to be fair for him. For him to just to be here is great, but the No. 1 priority is his family, and now that he's back here we have to make sure -- we know he's ready to pitch, but obviously with the volume we have to make sure it's a ramp up."

Velazquez strong in tuneup
A day after officially locking down the fourth spot in the rotation, right-hander Hector Velazquez looked ready to handle the responsibility. In his final tuneup of Spring Training, Velazquez held a solid Cubs lineup to three hits and no runs over four innings. He walked one and struck out two.

The Red Sox purchased Velazquez's contract from the Mexican League last year. This will be the first time he has started a season on the Major League roster, let alone in the rotation.

Video: CHC@BOS: Velazquez fans Contreras in the 4th

"It's a great opportunity to have," Velazquez said. "Last year when I came here, I felt I had nothing to lose and everything to gain when I showed up. Now that I'm in this position, I'm excited."

Devers good for Thursday
Third baseman Rafael Devers felt no ill effects a day after exiting Monday's game with a right knee contusion. Though he didn't play on Tuesday, Devers will be at third base when the Red Sox open their season on Thursday at Tropicana Field.

Red Sox will be shifty
It's doubtful any team will deploy more elaborate shifts than the Red Sox this season. The system is so complex that the players will be wearing pieces of paper under their hats that list all the assignments. The other day, there was some confusion when a reliever came in. All the other players stayed in the same shift they were under while David Price was on the mound, but Hanley Ramirez correctly switched to the new alignment based on the reliever.

"We had Hanley here, [Eduardo] Nunez there and [Xander] Bogaerts," said Cora. "It was like an awful triangle. [Infield instructor Carlos] Febles is like, 'Hey Hanley, you've got to move, and he was like, 'No, check the card.' I mean, if Hanley is buying into the defensive alignments, we're fine."

Up next
After going 22-9 in Grapefruit League action, the Red Sox are eager to play in games that count, starting with Thursday's 4 p.m. ET opener at Tropicana Field, where ace Chris Sale will be on the mound. Watch every regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Craig Kimbrel, Hector Velazquez