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Bradford: Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel left marveling at one another

Rob Bradford
July 06, 2017 - 12:00 pm

Chris Sale. Craig Kimbrel. 

They are two pitchers the likes of which we haven't seen in these parts for some time. So unique and so dominant that the casual consumption of baseball becomes the kind of must-watch/must-listen event that is few and far between during a six-month season.

Want proof? Just ask each of them.

While both pitchers have dominated to almost unheard of levels throughout this first half, they have also been keeping a keen eye on one another.

"That's a guy I love watching," said Sale of the Red Sox closer.

"It's been pretty neat to watch him pitch so far," added Kimbrel of the Sox ace starter.

What you takeaway after talking to each pitcher about the other is that this isn't just about marveling at results. There is a very real amazement emanating from each when figuring out how it is getting done.

Start with a pretty powerful proclamation from Sale.

"I would say he has the best fastball I've ever seen," he said of Kimbrel. "I know people throw harder. It looks like it gets to the cut of the grass and just takes off. It appears like it's 95, and once it gets to the cut of the grass it gets to 98, 99 or 100. It's explosive. He's got one of the latest moving fastballs I've ever seen. It just takes off. At the very last minute it just explodes.

"It might not be the nicest thing to say but I would like to see him go out and call his pitches. He would have a damn good chance of getting it done letting them know what's coming. He's that good."

Kimbrel's response?

"That means a lot considering it's coming from the guy who actually might have the best fastball," said the closer with a slight smile.

As deferential as Kimbrel tries to be, Sale's amazement is justified. The Sox closer has thrown his fastball 400 times this season, with hitters managing just eight hits against it. And then there are the optics.

"It's amazing just how consistently explosive it is," Sale said. "You see him throw three days in a row. If he he's out there for two innings and he throws 31 pitches, if that 31st pitch is a fastball it still has that jump. That third day he throws still has life, and that's hard to do. It seems like he never has that fastball with no life on it.

"It also appears like it goes up. It's physically impossible, but that's what it looks like. It looks like he's trying to almost throw it into the ground. And it looks like it's going down, but then it kind of takes off."

For a pitcher like Sale, however, it's not just sitting back and enjoying the view. After witnessing Kimbrel, there is a curiosity as to how this happens. And thanks to their daily interaction, at least some of the riddle has been solved.

"You just have a greater appreciation for him. When you're not teammates with somebody, you just see him out there pitching. It just seems like he goes out there and pitches. But the work he puts in is impressive," Sale explained. "He does a whole workout after he gets done pitching. He takes care of himself really well. He really does. For me, you appreciate it more because he's not just going out there. There's a lot of work and dedication that goes into what he does to get the job done. 

"It is raw talent, but it's hard work, dedication and drive. You just learn to appreciate it more because he doesn't take it for granted."

According to Kimbrel, the admiration is mutual.

Ironically, the only time the two workout warriors cross paths are on the days both have pitched in the same game. Kimbrel doesn't workout until after the final out, while Sale's only post game trip to the weight rooms come when he hits the treadmill after his starts.

But that doesn't mean there isn't an understanding and appreciation from Kimbrel when it comes to knowing what Sale is all about.

"There are so many scenarios that make him good," the closer said of his first-year teammate. "His height. How flexible he is. His arm angle. His ability to pitch. He has the ability to throw it in there at 98, but then he might throw it in at 91. He's just a complete pitcher. It takes a lot of practice and ability to do what he does. And now we get to see it every fifth day, which is pretty cool.

"He's got a routine and understands his body and what he needs to do each and every day to get ready for his next start. Even when he's not preparing for his next start, he's a good team guy. Even when he's not in the game, he's involved in the game. It seems like he's always moving around and doing what he can. It has been neat to watch him pitch so far."

And, like Sale's infatuation with Kimbrel's fastball, the reliever has also been left awestruck by one of the lefty's offerings -- his slider.

While picking Sale's best pitch might seem like a toss-up -- with the starters having throwing his fastball 572 times this season compared to the 556 sliders he has broken off -- it is the breaking ball that has left Kimbrel with raised eyebrows.

"As good as his fastball is you have to talk about his slider," Kimbrel said. "He can throw it by guys sometimes. His ability with his arm angle, when he lets go a fastball away and then a slider to the back-foot … It starts of at the same slot so it's not like a hitter can see a pitch and know it's going to be back-foot because he starts so far outside they have to prepare to hit that fastball. They have no chance. You see him do it night in, night out and guys still can't figure it out. It's one of the best sliders I've seen. When he needs a strikeout he can do it with his fastball or slider, but his slider is pretty dominant."

So while the baseball community has sat back and watched 448 swings and misses induced by the duo, just know they they are doing the same thing we are -- soaking in the show while passing along the exact same reaction.

"He's fun to watch," said both.

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