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Kimbrel joins short, elite list with 40th save

Newson August 30th, 2014No Comments

ATLANTA — Craig Kimbrel joined yet another exclusive club when he notched his Major League-high 40th save to end Friday night’s 5-2 win over the Marlins.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kimbrel became just the third Major League pitcher to register 40 or more saves in each of four consecutive seasons. Trevor Hoffman did it twice (1998-2001 and 2004-07) and Francisco Rodriguez matched this accomplishment from 2005-08.

Kimbrel’s success this year adds to the accomplishment he achieved last year, when he became the first pitcher in Major League history to record at least 40 saves in each of his first three full seasons.

Kimbrel has successfully converted 90.7 percent of the 197 save opportunities he has had since the start of the 2011 season. His 178 saves during this span are 47 more than any other Major Leaguer over the same period.

Kimbrel, Braves visit children’s hospital

Newson July 24th, 2014No Comments

ATLANTA — Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has visited Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta many times, but the experience never grows old for the hard-throwing right-hander. When asked about his visit on Thursday afternoon, he responded, “I love it every year.”

“They’re not all baseball fans, but they all know that we’re in there to try to make them feel better,” Kimbrel said. “And they make us feel better. With what they’re going through, if we can put a smile on their face just by seeing us, our bad days don’t seem so bad. And I feel like that’s what we all take out of that.”

Kimbrel has visited both with the team and with his wife, Ashley, as part of his partnership with Curing Kids’ Cancer, a non-profit organization dedicated to funding cutting-edge treatments for pediatric cancer.

Numerous teammates joined Kimbrel on Thursday, including Justin Upton, Shae Simmons and Alex Wood. Wood was grateful to take part in the visits.

“It’s kind of one of those things where you feel a little bit more selfish,” Wood said, “because it’s almost like they inspire you so much and make you really appreciate how fortunate we are to do what we do and have the loving, caring families, and the health of our families, day in and day out.”

Wood was appreciative to meet several Braves fans who keep up with the team, but he also enjoyed the experience of talking with the patients who do not watch baseball.

“There’s other ones that aren’t that interested in it, and those are the ones that really make you feel fortunate to be there and they’re allowing us to come in there and spend a few minutes with them and kind of just hang out and show our appreciation,” Wood said.

“Let them know that there’s people outside of their families and people at the hospital that are thinking about them and hoping they get well.”

Kimbrel dominates American League batters

Newson July 16th, 2014No Comments

MINNEAPOLIS — While enjoying the honor of being an All-Star during each of his first four full Major League seasons, Craig Kimbrel has never shied away from the chance to get to know some of the National League’s top offensive stars.

Whatever friendliness he shows while spending a couple days as their teammate will not trump the intimidation factor he can instantly regain with his high octane heater and commanding mound presence.

“I talk to everybody,” Kimbrel said. “I tell them they’re either going to get a fastball or a curveball. They know that. I’m not trying to set you up. If they do ask, I might tell them I’m working on a changeup or something.”

Kimbrel certainly wasn’t tipping anything as he recorded three strikeouts in the scoreless seventh inning he produced during Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Target Field. The Braves’ closer might have completed the inning in perfect fashion had his Atlanta teammate Freddie Freeman not fumbled Alexei Ramirez‘s one-out grounder.

“It got Craig to be able to get another strikeout with me making that error,” Freeman said with a laugh. “I did that for him.”

Other than the fact that the American League claimed a 5-3 win, there was plenty of reason for the Braves’ participants to be smiling at the end of a memorable night. Freeman singled in his first All-Star Game at-bat and Kimbrel took advantage of the chance to shine on a big stage.

Julio Teheran, the Braves’ other All-Star representative, was not permitted to pitch because he had started on Sunday. However, the 23-year-old hurler experienced his thrill as he participated in Tuesday afternoon’s Chevrolet Red Carpet Parade.

“That was the most fun I’ve had here,” Teheran said. “You get to see everybody and hear them yelling my name. That’s cool. It made me feel proud and like a star.”

Kimbrel certainly looked like he legitimized his star status as he got Derek Norris, Brandon Moss and Ian Kinsler to swing through third-strike pitches. Kinsler had also been one of the victims when Kimbrel struck out the only two batters he faced during the 2012 Midsummer Classic. This year’s outing was certainly more memorable than the one Kimbrel experienced last year when he surrendered hits to three of the first four hitters he faced and ended up allowing what stands as the only run he has allowed in three All-Star Game innings.

“No runs scored, and that was what was most important,” Kimbrel said. “Three strikeouts just makes it a little sweeter.”

Freeman ended the sixth inning with a tremendous stretch to complete a defensive gem Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon began by sliding through the outfield grass. The first baseman then provided a brief scare when he reached into the stands to get a foul ball and bumped his side on the wall. As he made his way back to his position, Freeman playfully signaled to Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez that he was hurt and then shared a laugh with Kimbrel. Gonzalez, who was an NL coach, smiled and patted his right hand near his heart.

“The ball he went after over in the stands, he made everyone a little nervous,” Kimbrel said. “I was like, just calm down a little bit.”

Before he settled down, Freeman allowed Ramirez’s grounder to climb up his left glove arm. But the error was an afterthought when Freeman singled through the right side off Sean Doolittle with one out in the eighth inning.

Recording a hit in his first at-bat allowed Freeman to distance himself from the frustration he felt last year, when he gained his first All-Star selection and then incurred a left thumb injury that prevented him from playing.

“That’s a special moment,” Freeman said. “I was just trying to make contact really. My hands were shaking a little bit. But once I swung 1-0 and got that one out of the way, everything kind of calmed down after that.”

Now that they have experienced a few hectic and memorable days at the All-Star Game, the Braves’ contingent will head back to Atlanta to rest for a couple days. They’ll be back to business on Friday as they face the Phillies and attempt to at least remain tied with the Nationals atop the National League East.

“You obviously want to be winning your division, but it’s not a bad thing to be tied,” Kimbrel said. “We match up with [the Nationals] a lot during the second half, so those are going to be the really important games that we play.”

Kimbrel putting together another All-Star worthy half

Newson June 30th, 2014No Comments

ATLANTA — Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has been nearly untouchable the past two summers. Between 2012 and ’13, Kimbrel compiled a 1.11 ERA, struck out 14.9 batters per nine innings and converted 92 of 99 save opportunities.

Kimbrel also tallied a 6.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), two top-five finishes in National League Cy Young Award voting and his second and third All-Star nods.

So even though Kimbrel is tied for second in the Majors with 24 saves, ranks third among pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings with 15.3 strikeouts per nine and broke John Smoltz’s Braves franchise record for saves, he will likely have to wait until Sunday to find out if he will earn his fourth All-Star nod.

The 2014 American League and National League All-Star teams will be unveiled on the Taco Bell All-Star Selection Show on Sunday, July 6, beginning at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, with further details to follow on MLB.com.

Although Kimbrel will have to rely on his peers for votes, fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com and all 30 club sites — online or on a mobile device — using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 11:59 p.m. ET. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15.

Immediately following the announcement of the AL and NL All-Star rosters, fans can begin voting to select the final player for each league’s 34-man roster via the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Experian. Fans will cast their votes from a list of five players from each league over the balloting period.

And the voting doesn’t end there. The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Pepsi, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.

Should Kimbrel not make the roster cut on Sunday, he is a strong candidate for the NL Final Vote. How many pitchers can say that a 2.23 ERA is a career-worst number? Kimbrel has that luxury, and the season has barely reached the midway mark.

Kimbrel may have already matched the four blown saves he had last season, but if there is a pitcher capable of holding steady at that number, it would be the one who threw 28 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings from July 8 to Sept. 10, 2013.

And given his performance this season, why shouldn’t Kimbrel get the chance to avenge his tough eighth inning from last year’s Midsummer Classic when he gave up a run on three hits and threw a wild pitch in the NL’s 3-0 loss at Citi Field?

He could redeem himself on July 15 at Target Field, where MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.

The 85th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International’s independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Kimbrel Breaks Braves Record for Saves, Strengthens Commitment to Curing Kids Cancer

Newson June 10th, 2014No Comments

ATLANTA, GA — (Marketwired) — 06/09/14 — Just as Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel shattered the franchise record for saves today, he issued challenge to fellow MLB players to help him save the lives of children battling cancer.

Kimbrel, who is actively involved with the Atlanta-based nonprofit Curing Kids Cancer as Chairman of Players Curing Kids Cancer, said, “I’d like to create a ‘Players Curing Kids Cancer’ Team. We’d like to recruit one player for each position, from different major league teams. This team could raise both awareness and funds for new, groundbreaking treatments for kids with cancer.”

In addition to saving 155 baseball games, Kimbrel also is saving lives. For every save, Kimbrel donates $100, and he donates $25 for every strikeout. So far this year, Kimbrel has 16 saves and 40 strike outs. That $2,600 is added to more than $14,000 Kimbrel has donated to the charity since 2012.

In addition, Kimbrel works hard hosting events for the charity throughout the year, including inviting pediatric cancer patients and their families to a tailgate meal and game at Turner Field. In November Craig and Ashley Kimbrel host the exclusive “Cowboy Boots and Cocktails” event which, last year included a private concert with country music star Cole Swindell.

Craig Kimbrel, a Huntsville, Alabama native, made his MLB debut in May 2010. He has been on the All-Star roster three times. He and his wife Ashley became involved with Curing Kids Cancer after hearing the story of the inspiration behind the charity, Killian Owen, who died at age nine from leukemia. Killian’s parents, Grainne and Clay Owen, founded the charity the year after losing their son.

Curing Kids Cancer works to make childhood cancer curable in our lifetime. The nonprofit has raised more than $5 million for pediatric cancer research. It mainly funds innovative targeted treatments with fewer harmful side effects. Curing Kids Cancer raises money through partnerships with sports teams at local and national levels, community involvement, corporate sponsorships and support from national sports figures including Lee Corso and Craig Kimbrel, and is the official charity for the powerhouse Mecum Auctions. For more information, see CuringKidsCancer.org.

Braves top D-backs as Kimbrel seizes club saves title

Newson June 9th, 2014No Comments

PHOENIX — Craig Kimbrel is only in his fifth full season in the Majors, all of them as the closer for the Braves, and it didn’t take him long to set the club’s all-time save record of 155. He just turned 26.

Kimbrel passed John Smoltz on Friday night at Chase Field when he was asked to close down the D-backs in a rare four-out save situation. It was only the third time he’s done that in his career. Smoltz, who spent most of his 21 seasons as a starter, did it 35 times.

Different times, different eras.

“I mean, they’re OK, I like them,” said Kimbrel after recording his 16th save of the season in the Braves’ 5-2 win over the D-backs. “My job is to pitch, so if I have to come in and get four or five outs, that’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”

Kimbrel was the third pitcher Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez used in the eighth inning as his club clung to a 3-2 lead.

Andrelton Simmons doubled in the go-ahead run in the seventh and Julio Teheran (6-3) pitched seven innings of five-hit ball as the Braves took the first game of a three-game weekend set.

Gonzalez called on Kimbrel with the tying run on second. He struck out former teammate Martin Prado looking to end that threat before setting the D-backs down in order in the ninth. He has recorded his 155 saves in 172 opportunities, blowing only 17. Smoltz converted 154 of 169 when soon-to-be Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox used him to close from 2001-04.

“He hadn’t pitched since last Saturday so we were able to do that,” Gonzalez said when asked about bringing Kimbrel on in the eighth. “He set an Atlanta Braves record. Good for him and good for us that we have him to use in the back of the game. It sure is a nice luxury.”

Actually, the franchise record stretches across the eras from Boston to Milwaukee and Atlanta. It could be argued that if Cox had Kimbrel on his clubs that went to World Series five times from 1991-99, the Braves would have won more than one championship. Cox had Alejandro Pena, who saved 26 games for the Braves, and Mark Wohlers, who had 112.

Wohlers closed out Game 6 of the 1995 World Series, defeating the Indians, 1-0, in a game that Tom Glavine, another imminent Hall of Famer, pitched eight innings of one-hit ball.

Smoltz won 210 games for the Braves, 206 of them as a starter. He’ll be on the Hall of Fame ballot later this year for the first time and is eligible to be elected in the Class of 2015.

Kimbrel? He succeeded Billy Wagner as Braves’ closer and he’s just getting started.

“It’s amazing,” said Kimbrel, who was placed into the role of closer late in the 2010 season by Cox, his last year as a manager. “I got a chance at a young age. I’ve been put in some situation and that’s why I am where I am now. Having a chance in my first season to be a closer, that doesn’t happen very often. That’s why we’re here talking today because I had that opportunity. It’s pretty awesome.”

The Braves went into the series having lost two in a row at home to the Mariners and were 29th in the Major Leagues with 199 runs scored. But Jason Heyward went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and three RBIs, including a two-run homer off D-backs starter Brandon McCarthy (1-8). With Miami’s loss to the Cubs in Chicago, the Braves again took over undisputed possession of first place in the National League East with a 32-27 record.

Teheran (6-3) allowed the two D-backs runs, the first coming off a first-inning leadoff homer by recently-recalled shortstop Didi Gregorius. He whiffed seven, walked one and tossed 97 pitches, his ERA remaining about level at 1.89.

That set up the situation for Kimbrel. But putting it all into perspective, even with the Braves’ modest record secure, he’s still well behind Trevor Hoffman’s all-time NL-leading 601 saves and Mariano Rivera’s record 652, all with the Yankees.

“That’s impressive,” Kimbrel said. “If you look at what they’ve done, it just shows how hard they worked, to stay healthy that long and pitch that many years in pressure-packed situations.”

Rivera did it for 19 seasons and Hoffman for 18. Hard to imagine.

“I can only imagine doing it for one more season,” Kimbrel said, laughing. “This season. One more.”

Smoltz: Save record for Kimbrel long-time coming

Newson June 3rd, 2014No Comments

ATLANTA — Entering Tuesday night’s late game against the Mariners, Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was one save away from his 155th in an Atlanta uniform — which would break the franchise record set by John Smoltz.

Smoltz, who racked up 154 saves in three seasons and some change as the Braves closer, has been calling for this statistical shift since his Braves’ Hall of Fame induction and jersey retirement, about this time two years ago.

Not only has Smoltz been fully prepared to hand over the mantle to the Braves’ dynamic young closer. But he wouldn’t be Smoltz if he didn’t do it with a challenge:

“He’s going to double the number,” said Smoltz. “You cross your fingers for Kimbrel he stays healthy, and he’s going to save a lot of games.”

Doubling would put Kimbrel into the elite category of closer, with the John Wettelands (330) and Rollie Fingers (341), the Troy Percivals (358) and Jeff Reardons (367). But Smoltz will mention Kimbrel in the same breath as the standard for all closers, Mariano Rivera, who finished his career last year with 652 saves for the Yankees.

“He’s in a rare category of people,” Smoltz said of Kimbrel. “Mariano has always been one in his own. He did it with one pitch and for the amount of years that he did. Craig Kimbrel is what you would define as unhittable. When you want to get out of a jam, when you have the game on the line, he’s that good.”

Closing for Smoltz was more an experiment than a way of life. It was a way to try to ease his workload coming off his Tommy John surgery in 2000. He gained an appreciation for exactly what the job requires, though, and what makes Kimbrel so good.

“I love watching him pitch,” said Smoltz, who often watches live as a part-time analyst for Fox Sports. “I love watching him come in. And he’s got way better stuff than I had for that role. I was just a guy that had 2500 innings and used my experience. I’m not saying I didn’t have good stuff; I may have had more weapons. (But) he had two more dominating-type pitches. That’s what separates him and like an (Aroldis) Chapman.”

Kimbrel has a 99 mph fastball that he mixes with a devastating breaking ball. He has struck out 43% (418-of-969) of his batters

faced during the regular season, the highest strikeout percentage among the elite relievers — those with at least 150 career saves.

Smoltz has always maintained that Kimbrel could get outs just by commanding his fastball. And he’s enjoyed watching Kimbrel, now 26, progress in his approach to hitters over the past five seasons.

Kimbrel spent his first season under the tutelage of Billy Wagner, and the past four on his own.

“We all have to have our own progression of learning, and he went through it a little bit faster,” Smoltz said. “When I saw him under Wagner, you could see almost the progression of like Rivera under Wetteland. Everybody knew when we were going through that, ‘This guy is going to save a lot of games.’ You can’t say that about every eighth inning guy. You can’t say that about a lot of transitional guys.”

Kimbrel came up through the minor leagues as a closer and relishes the role. He didn’t do what Smoltz did, which is keep “one eye on the job, one eye half open for the other one (starting).”

Smoltz returned to the Braves rotation in 2005 and continued to build his Hall of Fame resume based on his versatility. He’s the first major league pitcher to win 200 or more games and save 150 or more.

Smoltz thinks Kimbrel will benefit from the fact that he’s pitching in an era of such specialization, when he’s not likely to pitch in many non-save or four-out situations except during the postseason.

The save total, and the career, will keep taking off, provided he stays healthy.

Kimbrel has already made three straight All-Star appearances and on May 18, he became the youngest pitcher to reach 150 saves for his career.

“Since he’s been there, the Braves have had an edge in the bullpen and it’s solely because — well, it helps having the arms they have — but you know when he comes it’s like ‘game over,’” Smoltz said.