•on September 4th, 2013
Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who led the Majors with 12 saves during August, has been selected as the winner of the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month Award for August, marking the third career monthly honor for the right-hander. Kimbrel also captured the award in August 2011 and September 2012. This Major League Baseball award recognizes the most outstanding relief pitcher during each month of the regular season as voted on by a panel from Major League Baseball.
Kimbrel becomes the fifth pitcher to win the award at least three times, joining Trevor Hoffman (4), Joe Nathan (4), J.J. Putz (3) and Rafael Soriano (3). In addition, he joins Hoffman (2005-07) as the only pitchers to win the award at least once in three consecutive seasons.
Kimbrel went 1-0 and converted each of his 12 save opportunities during the month and appeared in 16 games, hurling 16.1 scoreless innings. The Huntsville, Alabama native permitted just eight hits with two walks and 19 strikeouts while holding opposing hitters to a .138 batting average. The hard-throwing 25-year-old opened the month with saves in three consecutive contests from August 2nd-4th at Citizens Bank Park against the N.L. East rival Philadelphia Phillies. Kimbrel notched five strikeouts over 3.0 innings pitched and yielded just two hits over the three contests. The Wallace State Community College (AL) product posted saves on consecutive nights against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on August 6th-7th, striking out the side in the first of the two contests. Kimbrel also fanned the side and recorded a save against the Nationals in Atlanta on August 18th. The third round selection in the 2008 MLB Draft recorded his third victory of the season on August 28th against the Cleveland Indians at Turner Field, tossing a perfect ninth inning before Chris Johnson provided the walk-off heroics in the bottom of the frame. The 2011 N.L. Rookie of the Year closed out the month with 5.1 perfect innings and three strikeouts over five appearances from August 25th-31st. Kimbrel did not allow a free pass in 15 of his 16 appearances during the month. On the season, the three-time All-Star is 3-2 with a Major League-best 44 saves and a 0.94 ERA.
Other relievers receiving votes included Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen (0-0, 0.73 ERA, 9 SV, 12 G, 12.1 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 24 SO); Chicago White Sox closer Addison Reed (1-1, 1.56 ERA, 10 SV, 15 G, 17.1 IP, 10 H, 4 BB, 13 SO); and San Francisco Giants closer Sergio Romo (1-0, 0.87 ERA, 9 SV, 11 G, 10.1 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 5 SO).
•on August 29th, 2013
ATLANTA — The Braves have one of the best relief pitchers in Major League Baseball. In fact, Craig Kimbrel is one of the good guys in every sense.
The next time you watch a Braves game and Kimbrel comes out to save the win, you’ll have extra reason to cheer. For every save, he donates $100 to Curing Kids Cancer, a local group that raises money for pediatric cancer research.
Kimbrel also gives $25 for every strikeout. He is challenging his teammates to join him in the fight against childhood cancer.
Kimbrel is hosting a fan event Saturday to raise money for Curing Kids Cancer. Tickets are sold out, but you can still donate at curingkidscancer.org.
•on August 23rd, 2013
ST. LOUIS — Like in his first two full Major League seasons, Craig Kimbrel has once again reached the 40-saves mark. But his latest save has put him in uncharted waters.
Kimbrel notched his 40th save during Wednesday’s win over the Mets. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kimbrel is the only pitcher in Major League history to record at least 40 saves in three consecutive seasons, starting with his rookie season.
“I’m not really worried about my numbers,” Kimbrel said. “I’m just worried about winning. I guess that is one of the reasons I’ve had success. I’m not wrapped up in what I’ve done or anything like that. I’m wrapped up in trying to help the team win and get to our final goal, which is to win the World Series.”
Kimbrel also now joins John Smoltz as the only pitchers in Braves history to have three 40-save seasons. Kimbrel entered Thursday having converted 30 consecutive save appearances dating back to May 9. The 25-year-old closer has allowed one earned run and limited opponents to a .153 batting average in 38 appearances during this span.
•on August 20th, 2013
NEW YORK — Craig Kimbrel is one save away from joining John Smoltz as the only Braves closers to record 40 or more saves in three consecutive seasons, having already passed the legend’s record for consecutive conversions. The latest milestone could happen in the two-game series against the Mets or in the four big games that close Atlanta’s road trip in St. Louis.
Wherever it happens, Kimbrel will put on his Mr. Hyde mask and see his “business time” through to the end, then promptly revert to the same happy-go-lucky character who lives largely at ease around Major League Baseball circles. That demeanor was on display Tuesday at the MLB Fan Cave, where he filmed an upcoming staredown-contest video with fans, played pingpong, hung out and talked about a variety of topics, including his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide’s upcoming opener, the Braves’ focus with a big lead and how he uses MLB.TV Premium as a secret weapon for preparation.
“It definitely is a great personal accomplishment, but it also says I’ve been part of a team that has been winning a lot of games that last three years,” said Kimbrel, who entered Tuesday night’s series opener at Citi Field tied with Baltimore’s Jim Johnson for the Major League lead with 39 saves, following 46 in 2011 and 42 in ’12.
“I’ve been fortunate to be part of a winning team and to have those opportunities. If we didn’t win, I wouldn’t have those opportunities, and I wouldn’t be sitting here talking about three straight years of 40 saves. So I feel honored, but lucky at the same time.”
Kimbrel, already the only Braves closer other than Smoltz in the 30-30-30 saves club, has seen his name used alongside Smoltz often lately. The former broke the latter’s club record with his 28th consecutive save conversion last Wednesday against Philadelphia, and then Kimbrel upped that to 29 straight in Sunday’s finale against the Nationals. His last blown save was on May 7 in Cincinnati, and since then, he has allowed only one run and 19 hits in 37 appearances (37 innings) with 56 strikeouts. Three of those K’s came in his last outing, ending it with a Bryce Harper unsuccessful checked swing.
If you are among the millions of MLB.TV subscribers, then you have something in common with the three-time All-Star. Kimbrel said it is part of his arsenal in the pursuit of perfection.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “I actually use MLB.TV to go back and watch the game and watch mechanics and to watch other games. If I want to go back and see how somebody did, you can pull it up and watch the entire game after it’s already done, just on your phone. So I think it’s really awesome.
“Tendencies, things like that. We have all that at the field, but if you’re not at the field, you don’t have it. So it’s great to pull it up or watch another game. I have friends who are on the West Coast. So if their games are not on TV, I can just pull it up and watch it on my phone, and it’s just right there.”
For those watching Kimbrel stare down hitters, you may be wondering: What goes through his mind as “Welcome to the Jungle” is played when he enters a game? What is behind that steely-eyed stare? As he puts it, Dr. Jekyll transforms ever so briefly into Mr. Hyde.
“I’m completely different,” Kimbrel said. “I’m a very funny guy, I like to joke around, never really take anything too serious until five or 10 minutes out of the day. Then when I go on the field to pitch, to close the game out, that’s my time to be serious. That’s my business time. I’m out there mad, not mad at anybody, but out there determined to get the job done. … As soon as that last out is over, I’m just back to being normal me.”
The “normal” Kimbrel often can be overheard talking Bama football, having come from Huntsville, Ala. He circled Aug. 31 on his calendar a long time ago, knowing that is when the two-time defending champion Tide opens its season in Atlanta against Virginia Tech. The Braves are home that Saturday night against Miami, a 7:10 ET start. Bama’s start time is 5:30 ET. He joked to Braves general manager Frank Wren in the dugout recently that Atlanta’s game should be changed to earlier in the day to accommodate “traffic.”
“I’ll definitely be watching the first half on the TV rooting my guys on,” Kimbrel said. “Nick Saban puts together a great ballclub. He brings in great talent and teaches those guys to play great football. I think that’s why he’s such a good coach. There definitely is more attention on the team now than there was in the past — back-to-back national championships, preseason No. 1 — all that kind of stuff. For a college kid, it probably can weigh on a kid. But [Saban] is not going to let them think they’re No. 1; he’s going to make them go out there and prove it.”
Actually, it will be busy enough for Kimbrel without the football-baseball sequence on Aug. 31. He is going to meet with about 190 kids in a pregame party that night to help Curing Kids Cancer.
“We’ll give them a hat and a glove, and hopefully, they’ll catch a foul ball,” Kimbrel said. “Try and get away from going to the hospital every day and going in for treatment.”
That’s Kimbrel off the field, charitable and goofing around. He said ending this Braves season strong is serious business, especially after the last two abrupt endings. There is a long line of clubs that dominated their divisions only to exit the postseason early in soporific style. He sees this runaway National League East leader as driven to withstand.
“We don’t have that stressed feel. We haven’t been stressed all year long,” Kimbrel said. “We’ve just been going out there having a good time. Yeah, we have a big lead, but we haven’t won the division yet. … We still have a month and a half of baseball left to play in the regular season, and we’ve just got to go out there and take one game at a time.
“I don’t think this team will let a big lead get us comfortable, because we’ve been through that. We’ve been there, and we’ve thrown it away. This team is not going to get too comfortable. We still have that edge and go out there and try to win every night.”
•on August 2nd, 2013
ATLANTA, Georgia — There he is, on the shelf under the hotel TV, celebrating on the cover of an Atlanta visitors’ magazine and inside, talking about Atlanta traditions like tubing on the Chattahoochee River.
There he is, on the pages of “Sports Illustrated,” answering questions about what gift he’d give the Royal Baby and what TV show he’s best suited for. (Tea and crumpets, and “Survivor,” for the record.)
Craig Kimbrel, the third-year relief pitcher from Huntsville, is clearly becoming the face of the Atlanta Braves.
There Kimbrel was in the Atlanta Braves’ dugout two hours before a recent game in the midst of the Braves’ 7-0 homestand against St. Louis and Colorado. Alongside Kimbrel, who has a league-leading 31 saves, 1.34 ERA and 62 strikeouts of 157 batters faced going into the weekend, was Huntsville Times/al.com columnist Mark McCarter, for this conversation:
McCarter: You’ve lost Tim Hudson for the season. What does Hudson mean to you personally and the team?
Kimbrel: Personally he’s a guy, being from Alabama, you grow up watching – even if though he’s a big Auburn fan. You enjoy the way he competed, being a guy that’s not tall in stature… You look at guys who are in the big leagues he was 5-10, 170 pounds. The stereotype they look for is 6-4, 6-5 kind of guy. He kinda defeated that.
He’s the ace of our team. To have him go down it’s tough but I feel like we have some guys that can step up and fill his shoes. By no means is anybody going to be the next Huddy, but there are some guys in our rotation who can go out and do the job.
I saw him that first night (after the injury) and the first question he was asking was, “Is this something I can come back from?” When they said it was, that gave him a good, positive outlook.
McCarter: With injuries and guys who aren’t producing the way some expected, how are you guys winning so much?
Kimbrel: I don’t know. It seems like somebody gets hurt and somebody steps up. The thing about baseball, somebody gets hurt and it opens the door and gives somebody else the chance to show what they can do. It’s what happened to me.
McCarter: Are you where you were this time last year with your pitching?
Kimbrel: Oh, yeah. I’m always comfortable. It’s different every year. Last year I felt like the hitters were taking more pitches and getting deeper in the counts. They got it in the back of their heads I might walk them. Now this year, it’s “OK, he’s going to throw me a pitch to hit, so we’re going to swing more.” Over the years you face a hitter a lot and they’ve got a scouting report on you as much as you’ve got a scouting report on them. They know what I’m going to do.
McCarter: How was the All-Star experience, especially with the tribute to (Yankees’ closer) Mariano Rivera?
Kimbrel: It was pretty awesome. I didn’t go out there and perform the way I’d have wanted to. But that was thrown out the door when Mo ran out there on the field and was out there by himself. I forget about what I did and was more caught up in the “Wow, this is really amazing.” To watch somebody who is the best at his position of all time to run out and get standing ovations from players and his rivals in New York, it was pretty special.
McCarter: Do you know him?
Kimbrel: I’ve met him briefly a few times before. But no real converstions. I talked to him at hotel afterward. We came back and we were standing in the lobby and my brother wanted to take a picture with him. I asked him how it felt. He got pretty choked up. He’s a guy of class. He just wants to go out there and do his job.
McCarter: Was that your “pinch-me moment” this year?
Kimbrel: The pinch-me moment I’ve had this year, we were out in LA and they had this old-timers’ day. They had the Yankees legends and the Dodgers legends in a game. All the greats were there. It was really cool.
Sandy Koufax was there. They told us he was going to be there and I went and got a Sandy Koufax jersey. You don’t get the opportunity to meet those guys, let alone get an autograph.
I went out there and he was talking to everybody. When I got my turn to introduce myself to him, he said, “It’s good to see somebody who still throws a four-seam fastball.” I was like, “Sandy Koufax knows how I pitch and knows I throw a four-seam fastball.”
I thought that was a really cool comment, a great of the game, a legend of the game, actually knew who I was and how I pitched. It was a pretty amazing moment.
ATLANTA — Braves closer Craig Kimbrel joined one of the franchise’s all-time greats with Saturday night’s scoreless ninth inning, matching John Smoltz as the only Atlanta pitchers to record 30 saves in three different seasons.
Kimbrel was quick to put the accomplishment in perspective ahead of his team’s Sunday series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals,a potential playoff opponent, having already closed out a pair of hard-fought victories in back-to-back days to clinch a series win.
“Like I say every Spring Training, I’m not going into a season saying I want to get a certain number of saves or a certain number of opportunities,” Kimbrel said. “When I get those opportunities, I want to take advantage of them. We could be a winning ballclub but not have many save opportunities, or we could not win a lot of ballgames and have a lot of close games.”
Kimbrel has converted 20 consecutive save opportunities since his last blown save on May 7, striking out 41 batters in 26 innings. He has allowed just one hit and three walks since his last earned run allowed, which broke a tie game against the Marlins on July 4. His raw numbers have dropped only slightly from the Herculean totals he posted in 2012, but he did enough in the first four months of 2013 to earn his third consecutive All-Star selection and help the Braves build the largest division lead in baseball.
“The way I look at last year, I was going out there and doing my job,” Kimbrel said. “I had some pretty numbers to go along with it, strikeouts, not very many walks, not very many baserunners, but the bottom line is obviously just being able to go out there and get the save.”
Kimbrel was in high school when Smoltz was reinventing himself as one of the best closers in the game, racking up 144 saves between 2002-04 and posting three of the franchise’s top four single-season save totals.
“How many closers throw five pitches?” Kimbrel said of Smoltz. “It was almost unfair for him to be closing because obviously as a hitter, they eliminate pitches late in the game. The guy’s got five pitches, they really can’t do that.”
Both players accomplished the feat in three consecutive years, and they can now lay claim to half of the franchise’s 30-save seasons in franchise history. While Kimbrel does not boast that five-pitch repertoire, he can more realistically aspire to the regular appearances in the postseason that Smoltz’s success out of the bullpen helped inspire.
“It means we’re playing a lot of close games and we’re winning a lot of close games,” Kimbrel said. “It shows that I’ve been able to have those opportunities over the last three years, which just means that we’re winning a lot of ballgames.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
With every benchmark he reaches, closer Craig Kimbrel usually simply credits his teammates for putting him in position to convert saves. He did the same on Sunday, the day after becoming only the second Brave in franchise history to reach 30 or more saves in three seasons.
“It means we’re playing a lot of close games and we’re winning a lot of close games,” Kimbrel said.
But with each milestone, it’s becoming clearer how elite a closer Kimbrel is. The company he keeps now, with three seasons with 30 or more saves among Braves? He joins John Smoltz, who had 55, 45 and 44 saves in 2002-2004. Kimbrel was in high school then, watching as a fan growing up in Huntsville, Ala.
“How many closers throw five pitches?” Kimbrel said. “It was almost unfair for him to be closing.”
In his three seasons now as Braves closer, Kimbrel has 46, 42 and now 30 saves. He was a little “unfair” himself last year, striking out a record 16.7 batters per nine innings and holding opponents to a .126 batting average, the lowest since 1900.
The numbers haven’t been as eye-popping this year, but Kimbrel said converting save chances was always his primary objective. And that, with the exception of three blown saves over five chances in a two-week period this spring, is what he’s done.
“There’s always a point during the year that you feel like you’re not at your best and you have to get over that hump, and get past it,” Kimbrel said. “Sometimes you’re lucky enough that you don’t get out there and pitch when you’re going through that time but I was out there pitching trying to keep our team in it and I just wasn’t able to do it. Since then I feel like I’ve been able to move on and just take each outing at a time, and that’s really all you can do.”