When San Diego Padres closer Craig Kimbrel came into the game in the 8th inning Wednesday night for a four-out save last night, he got a little more than action than he expected. For the first time in his Major League Career, and only his second time ever as a professional baseball player, Kimbrel stepped into the batter's box as a hitter, armed with equipment he borrowed from his teammates and fellow pitchers, Tyson Ross and James Shields.
His opponent was Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Josh Collmenter. Melvin Upton Jr. and Austin Hedges had both grounded out to lead off the inning, so Kimbrel came in with two outs and no one on. And the result was one that he has gotten used to over the years, but on the other side of the ball. Collmenter got Kimbrel looking on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, an 87-MPH cutter. He did make a bit of contact during his appearance, fouling off the second pitch he saw (another cutter).
Someone frame this: pic.twitter.com/6XSe4oo3px— AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell) September 17, 2015
The whole thing came as a surprise to Kimbrel, who didn't realize when he came out of the bullpen in the 8th that his spot was due up in the next inning. Many fans are of the belief that maybe Padres interim manager Pat Murphy wasn't entirely aware of the circumstances either, though he told media that he was.
When Murphy brought Kimbrel into the game to relieve Joaquin Benoit in the bottom of the 8th, he reportedly didn't want to make a double switch with Jedd Gyorko or Cory Spangenberg, who were the last two hitters for the Padres in the top of the inning.
"It's a little unorthodox, but that's the way we chose to do it," Murphy said. "We knew we were going to be questioned about it. If they tie the game there, [Kimbrel] doesn't hit. We were taking a chance, but it's time to take some chances. Nothing else has worked."
During his postgame press conference Wednesday night, Murphy also told media that he gave Kimbrel a heads-up during their mound talk in the 8th that he was going to be hitting in the next inning, but suggested that maybe Kimbrel didn't hear him.
Whatever the case, having him hit didn't end up hurting the Padres as they took the series finale at Chase Field. And Kimbrel, who has had more than his share of close calls in save situations this season, had no trouble getting the final three outs of the game. He faced the minimum three batters and struck out the side in order to secure the series win for San Diego and notch his 37th save of the year.
But since last night, Kimbrel's at-at has been a topic of discussion amongst Padres fans, particularly since the Padres have an off day today.
Pat Murphy has certainly made more than one questionable call this season since being appointed interim manager for the Friars, and last night's is probably at the top of the list. He really tried to play it off during his postgame press conference, like it was all part of his plan all along, but it has many questioning his ability to manage a Major League baseball team. His position next year is still up in the air, but if his results these past few months are any indication, there's probably a good chance the Padres will go in another direction when they name their next manager.