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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.

Kimbrel ties Smoltz atop Braves’ all-time saves list

Newson June 1st, 2014No Comments

MIAMI — As he was raised in Alabama, Craig Kimbrel was among the countless Braves fans who used to love watching John Smoltz close games. Kimbrel now has the honor of knowing he has saved as many games as Smoltz did during his stint as Atlanta’s closer.

Kimbrel matched Smoltz’s franchise record of 154 saves when he closed out Saturday afternoon’s 9-5 win at Marlins Park. It appeared he would have to wait at least one more day to reach this mark. But he was summoned out of the Braves’ bullpen after the Marlins put two on with one out in the ninth.

After Kimbrel opened his outing by striking out Derek Dietrich, Ramiro Pena committed an error that loaded the bases. But the 26-year-old Braves closer then ended the game with a Casey McGehee groundout.

“It definitely is [special] to be a part of something like that,” Kimbrel said. “I know if Smoltz had done it his whole career, he would’ve had had a lot more.”

Smoltz’s stint as Braves closer began late in the 2001 season and extended through ’04. During that span, he converted 154 of 169 save opportunities. Kimbrel has been successful with all but 17 of his 171 save opportunities.

Still just 26 years old, Kimbrel is positioned to have many more opportunities and possibly one day approach the records set by Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and many of the game’s other legendary closers.

Eric Gagne (91.7) and Smoltz (91.1) are the only pitchers in Major League history to record at least 150 saves with a save percentage better than Kimbrel (90.1).

“It is nice to say I’m a part of something like that, but then again, I’ve had a lot of opportunities,” Kimbrel said. “I’ve played on some good ball teams the first three or four years. If it wasn’t for that case, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this now. I’m honored to even have the opportunity and the chance. Hopefully we’ll have a lot more opportunities and we win a lot more ballgames.”

Kimbrel piling up K’s as he nears Smoltz record for saves

Newson May 25th, 2014No Comments

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As he neared John Smoltz’s Braves career record for saves, closer Craig Kimbrel tried to put things into perspective by noting that Smoltz only served as closer for 3-1/2 seasons of a distinguished 21-year career.

But the fact remained, what Kimbrel has done is nonetheless impressive and historically dominant.

Kimbrel, in his fourth season as closer, entered Sunday needing two saves to match Smoltz’s Braves record of 154. Kimbrel considered it an honor.

“It definitely is,” he said. “(Smoltz is) a man I looked up to when I was younger, and still look up to. The things he was able to do in the game of baseball, not only as a closer but as a starter — and to do it as long as he did it, that’s impressive. Nearing a record that he has is pretty special, but he only (served as closer) for four years.

“So I’m getting closer to a record that he did in four years, and not many guys have had the opportunity to do it here in Atlanta for much longer than that.”

Smoltz is the only pitcher in major league history to have many as 200 wins and 150 saves. He closed for 3-1/2 seasons after returning from Tommy John elbow surgery, and in his three full seasons as closer he had save totals of 55 in 2002 (still the franchise record), 45 in 2003 and 44 in 2004.

Kimbrel last season became the second Brave to have a 50-save season and youngest (25) in major league history to do it, notching a career-best 50 while leading the National League in saves and ERA (1.21). He finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award balloting.

This season he had 13 saves and a 1.96 ERA in 19 appearances before Sunday, and already racked up 36 strikeouts with seven walks in 18 1/3 innings. His 17.7 strikeouts per nine innings was more than 1 ½ strikeouts higher than the next-highest rate among major league pitchers.

In February the Braves signed Kimbrel to a four-year, $42 million extension with a fifth-year option, an unusually large and lengthy contract for closers at a time when the industry trend has been toward shorter deals for what is viewed as the most precarious of major league jobs.

The deal was an obvious indication of how highly the Braves think of Kimbrel, widely viewed as the best in baseball at what he does.

Given his contract, Kimbrel said if he didn’t set the Braves career saves record, “then something’s wrong.” At the same time, he doesn’t take anything for granted.

“I’m just going out there year-by-year,” he said. “Obviously with the contract they’re expecting me to do it for four or five years (more). But my mentality is just day-by-day and season-by-season. Showing up and doing what I have to do.”

The Alabama native’s 89.9 career save percentage rate ranked third in history among closers with at least 150 saves, behind Eric Gagne (91.7) and Smoltz (91.1).

Kimbrel has led or tied for the NL lead in saves in each of his first three seasons as closer, and in 2012 he was the first pitcher in baseball’s live-ball era to strike out 50 percent of the batters he faced, fanning 116 of 231. He was the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year after leading all major league relievers with 127 strikeouts.

He has struck out a remarkable 44 percent of the batters he’s faced in his career, which makes Kimbrel the runaway leader in that category among closers with 150 or more saves. Next on the list: Billy Wagner, a one-time Brave who struck out 33 percent of the batters he faced in a career that included 422 saves and 1,196 strikeouts.

Kimbrel struck out all three Colorado batters he faced in the ninth inning Friday in his 13th save of the season, after striking out three in a row following a leadoff hit-by-pitch Thursday against the Rockies.

“Strikeouts are fun,” he said. “They don’t always attest to how you’re pitching; you can go out there and strike out the side and give up two runs. (But) they do help you get out of situations. I don’t know, I can feel great for a while and not strike anybody out. Or feel awful and strike everybody out.”

He had a 1.00 ERA and .155 opponents’ average in his past 73 appearances since May 9, 2013, allowing 39 hits (one homer) and 24 walks with 113 strikeouts in 72 innings over that period, while converting 53 of 56 save opportunities

Kimbrel becomes youngest to record 150 saves

Newson May 19th, 2014No Comments

As Craig Kimbrel sauntered through the Braves clubhouse late Monday afternoon, he said he had not yet been presented with the baseball he threw to record his 150th career save on Sunday. But at the same time, he did not seem too concerned.

“I don’t look at it like it’s going to be my last,” Kimbrel said.

According to STATS, Kimbrel became the youngest pitcher (25 years and 355 days) to record 150 saves, and he did so in the fourth-fewest amount of save opportunities (167). The three pitchers who needed fewer opportunities were Eric Gagne (156), John Smoltz (163) and Joe Nathan (166).

Having had the unique opportunity to serve as a full-time closer throughout his rookie season, Kimbrel reached the mark in fewer career appearances (248) than any pitcher in Major League history.

“I don’t worry about the numbers,” Kimbrel said. “I just go out there and do my job when I need to.”

Kimbrel entered Monday four saves shy of tying Smoltz’s franchise record. Smoltz notched his 154th and final save for the Braves in his 168th opportunity on Oct. 2, 2004.