MILWAUKEE -- Craig Kimbrel has reached "ultimate weapon" status for the Red Sox, meaning that manager John Farrell can't always wait for the ninth inning or a save situation anymore.Thursday's dominant effort by Kimbrel (five outs, all strikeouts) in a 4-1 win over the Brewers marked the second straight appearance
MILWAUKEE -- Craig Kimbrel has reached "ultimate weapon" status for the Red Sox, meaning that manager John Farrell can't always wait for the ninth inning or a save situation anymore.
Thursday's dominant effort by Kimbrel (five outs, all strikeouts) in a 4-1 win over the Brewers marked the second straight appearance the closer has come on with one out in the eighth.
Both times, the strategy has worked for Farrell. Then again, everything is working when it comes to Kimbrel (1.15 ERA) these days.
"It's going to be a possibility, obviously, but we need to get our bullpen back in order as best possible," Farrell said. "We've had to go to them a lot. Certainly we're willing to do it, but we don't want to make it a consistent habit."
The situation was ripe for it Thursday.
Kimbrel hadn't pitched since Sunday, when he got the final two outs in the eighth with the Red Sox holding a 7-6 lead over the Twins, and he was then able to sit out the ninth after his team erupted for a 10-spot in the final frame.
This time, Farrell took it a step further, bringing Kimbrel into a tie game with one out in the eighth. Often times, managers don't even bring their closer into a tie game on the road in the ninth.
After losing the first two games in Milwaukee amid a hefty workload by the bullpen, this was the time Farrell felt compelled to be aggressive. Kimbrel was ready for it.
"Yeah, I mean there were a lot of variables that put me in the game today," Kimbrel said. "I hadn't thrown a lot over the last week. And the last few days, our bullpen has done a lot. Today was the day I had to get in there early. Tie ballgame, throw the save situation out the door. My job is to help this team win, and I was able to do that today."
For Kimbrel, the outing started by facing one of the best early-season stories in baseball in Eric Thames, who came on to pinch-hit. After getting ahead, 1-2, Kimbrel reached back for 98.3-mph and got Thames swinging.
"They were aggressive using him today," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "I was hoping to get Eric an at-bat before Kimbrel just because he's so good, but they were aggressive about putting him in right there."
There was just one brief annoyance for Kimbrel when Jonathan Villar reached on an infield hit. But Kimbrel made that a non-issue by striking out Keon Broxton on three pitches, capped by 98.6-mph heat.
For Farrell, the strategy with Kimbrel couldn't have looked any better when Mookie Betts belted a three-run homer to put the Red Sox ahead in the top of the ninth.
Back to close it out in the ninth, Kimbrel had an immaculate inning by getting three K's on nine pitches. The balanced assortment included four fastballs and five knuckle curves.
Overall, batters swung and missed at nine of Kimbrel's 20 pitches Thursday. That 45-percent swinging-strike rate is the highest of his career in a game with at least 15 total pitches. His four-seam fastball was particularly effective, generating six whiffs out of 11 pitches (54.5 percent). Only once before (Sept. 5, 2012) had Kimbrel posted a higher swinging-strike rate when throwing at least 10 four-seamers.
In Kimbrel's 15 appearances this season, he is 10-for-11 in saves with 31 strikeouts and just two walks over 15 2/3 innings. The Red Sox are 15-0 when he pitches.
"We were talking about it immediately following the game," Farrell said. "We're seeing two pitchers on our staff right now, both Kimbrel and [Chris] Sale, who are doing things that are very uncommon with the number of swing and miss.
"In today's case with Kimbrel, you see the power he's generating, the swing and miss. He throws two-thirds of an inning, then comes out and strikes out the side on nine pitches. Those are really uncommon things that play out. He's in a great spot and doing a great job."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.