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LeVangie uncovers unique reason for Kimbrel's slump

Rob Bradford
August 08, 2018 - 8:14 pm

TORONTO -- After Tuesday night, the concerns really started growing regarding Craig Kimbrel.

After blowing the save in what eventually would be a Red Sox' win over the Blue Jays -- with the closer giving up a game-tying home run to Justin Smoak -- the numbers had gotten ugly. Since the All-Star break Kimbrel had allowed five runs in 6 1/3 innings, walking five and allowing opponents to accumulate a .292 batting average and .926 OPS.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora cited the lack of command with Kimbrel's curveball. The pitcher simply said it was the struggle he was having with commanding both of his pitches. The strikeout rate was down. The walk rate was up. The velocity had dipped a bit.

There were plenty of reasons to target for the downturn.

But Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie believes he found something that has just as much to do with Kimbrel's opponents as the pitcher himself.

Kimbrel might have become too predictable.

"I brought this up to him last year as well, you just can’t get into situations, especially against lefties, where the strike zone map starts to separate. The colors start to stand out. Good hitters hunt certain locations for a type of pitch and if the color code starts to get really separated then they can have better opportunities to have success," LeVangie told WEEI.com prior to his team's game at Rogers Centre Wednesday night.

"I talked to him about using both pitches to both sides of the plate. Curveball backdoor. Using the fastball in a little bit more, not that I love throwing it in but just a little bit more to help get more swings on the breaking ball to them. And some backdoor curveballs for strikes earlier in the count to not help them not just sit on one speed and protect that part of the strike zone. We call it crisscrossing both sides of the plate. Once he starts doing that a little bit more the colors will start to intertwine a little bit."

The importance of mixing things up is more prevalent than ever considering how much information is at the disposal of hitters. And even a pitcher with the kind of stuff Kimbrel possesses can fall victim to routine patterns if there isn't a course correction at times.

After studying the information, and talking to Kimbrel Wednesday afternoon, LeVangie suggests such an alteration might be in the works.

"He’s fine. Everybody goes through these little bumps in the road," the pitching coach said. "He’s willing to do whatever it takes for this team. He takes the ball every day. He’s a big part of our success."

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