Kimbrel lights-out since returning from injury

Kimbrel lights-out since returning from injury

ST. PETERSBURG -- Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel entered Friday's opener vs. the Rays having closed three games in three days. Since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for most of July, he has posted a 0.53 ERA while locking down all 12 of his save opportunities. He was on the mound at the end of five of Boston's first eight wins during the club's current nine-game win streak.

"It's pretty remarkable that he's on the field to begin with," manager John Farrell said. "He's been arguably more consistent since coming back from the surgery. The save opportunities, the performance in those are off the charts."

The five-time All-Star wasn't available on Friday due to his recent workload, but he might just be on the mound as the Red Sox close in on a playoff berth -- which they could secure as soon as Saturday (they could clinch the American League East title as soon as Sunday).

Farrell didn't rule out using Kimbrel for more than three outs down the line, something the right-hander has done with more prevalence in 2016. He also said it's possible that Kimbrel could come into a game for a crucial situation before the ninth inning, if the situation and matchups call for it.

The fact is, given the way he's pitched for the better part of two months, Kimbrel's value extends beyond just getting three outs in the ninth inning. And his increase in effectiveness, Farrell said, is simply because he's found his control.

"If you're using the velocity marker, when he's like 96 or 97 [mph], he's just that tick more under control," Farrell said. "He's been staying in his lane to his intended location."

Worth noting

Koji Uehara likely won't see appearances in back-to-back games before the postseason. Doing so over the final nine games, Farrell said, would likely result in Uehara needing at least two days off afterward.

Christian Vazquez will likely get a start at catcher on Sunday when Eduardo Rodriguez pitches. Vazquez hasn't started a game since July 2. Sandy Leon will start on Saturday.

Steven Wright threw from 120 feet on Friday in Fort Myers, Fla., and reports were that everything went well, Farrell said. If he feels positive on Saturday, Wright will throw a bullpen session on Sunday. Wright has made just two starts since the beginning of August. He suffered a shoulder injury running the bases in August.

Sam Blum is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.