Less than 48 hours ago, the season ended for the 2013 Atlanta Braves, and in the process of their Game 4 loss to the Dodgers, manager Fredi Gonzalez came under a significant amount of heat for the use (or rather, non-use) of the best closer in baseball, Craig Kimbrel. When asked about that decision on Wednesday, Gonzalez (somehow) remained steadfast in his convictions:
Fredi Gonzalez said today he has no regrets about not using Craig Kimbrel for a six out save on Monday night. #Braves
— Kevin McAlpin (@KevinMcAlpin) October 9, 2013
To begin, it should be noted that not everyone believes that Gonzalez got this wrong. After all, he chose to insert set-up man David Carpenter, who had a 1.78 ERA on the season, and Carpenter was simply beaten by Dodgers 3B Juan Uribe. On top of that, Kimbrel hadn’t been called on for a single 6-out save during the 2013 season, and it would’ve been the first such instance of his career.
With that said, Gonzalez will catch heat from now until the end of time for this one, and frankly, I believe that he deserves it. At the time (and my Twitter can be a reference for this), I was completely okay with deploying David Carpenter to start the inning. Frankly, I still believe in that initial decision and I would defend Gonzalez for it. However, the choice to leave Kimbrel in the bullpen (despite the fact that he was already warmed up) after Yasiel Puig’s leadoff double is a choice that I can’t defend.
We all know what happened next, as Uribe blasted a Carpenter offering deep into the left-field seats for a soul-crushing, season-ending home run, and the camera immediately shot a despondent Craig Kimbrel, arms folded, in the bullpen. To add insult to injury, Kimbrel was seen plainly (on camera) stating that he told Gonzalez he could pitch 2 innings, and he echoed that sentiment in the post game. Yep.
There are certainly cases to be made for Gonzalez saying this to “cover his tracks”, or for the benefit of the shell-shocked David Carpenter, but without additional information, we may never know. The debate will rage on for days, months, and even years, but one thing is clear at this point.
Fredi Gonzalez believes that he made the right choice.