Craig Kimbrel gives up back-to-back homers in loss to Reds

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Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel took his third blown save, matching his total from 2012, and his first loss after giving up back-to-back homers to Devin Mesoraco and Shin-Soo Choo in the Reds’ 5-4 win over the Braves on Tuesday.

They were the second and third homers surrendered by Kimbrel in 14 1/3 innings this year. He’s allowed just as many homers this year as he did in 77 innings in 2011 and in 62 2/3 innings last year. He’s currently 10-for-13 saving games this year after going 42-for-45 last season.

Kimbrel also proved surprisingly vulnerable this spring, but he started the regular season with 8 2/3 scoreless innings before taking his first blown save on April 24. He’s allowed five runs and eight hits in five innings since that date.

It’s not like Kimbrel has been all bad, what with his 21/3 K/BB ratio to date. His velocity has held steady — he’s still throwing 95-98 mph — but he’s never been as comfortable with his breaking ball this year as he was in 2012. Both homers tonight came on 96-mph fastballs low in the zone. Mesoraco’s barely got over the wall in center.

Choo’s walkoff homer was his second solo shot of the game. He has seven homers in 126 at-bats this year after hitting 16 in 598 at-bats for Cleveland last season.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.