Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel discusses the MLBPA charity, The Action Team, as well as his more personal effort, Curing Kids Cancer
NEW YORK — Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has spent the past few years compiling an impressive collection of jerseys autographed by some of baseball’s greatest players. Some will hang in the man cave he plans to construct and others will aid in his many charitable endeavors.
The crown jewel of this collection was secured on Monday, when Kimbrel received a Yankees jersey that had been autographed by Mariano Rivera.
“He’s the best there is and the best there ever has been,” Kimbrel said, echoing the sentiments many have had regarding the Yankees closer for many years.
Kimbrel experienced a wave of emotions during the 3-0 loss he and his National League teammates suffered against the American League in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. After allowing a run in the top of the eighth, the Braves closer stayed in the dugout to experience the thrill of seeing Citi Field erupt as Rivera entered to pitch the bottom half of the inning.
“Anytime you have a chance to see something like that, it is pretty special,” Kimbrel said. “That doesn’t happen every day. I wasn’t going to miss that.”
With his customary entrance song, “Enter Sandman,” blaring through the stadium, Rivera received an overwhelming response as he prepared to make his final appearance in an All-Star Game. The Yankees closer, who will retire at the end of this season, stood on the field alone and turned to acknowledge each side of the stadium during a standing ovation that lasted nearly two minutes.
Rivera then gained his composure in time to pitch a perfect inning that fittingly provided him the honor of being the first closer to ever win the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet.
“He’s the best pitcher maybe to ever pitch, by far the best closer,” said Braves catcher Brian McCann, who also experienced this moment in the NL dugout. “This is something all of us young guys will cherish forever. I think it will hit us more once we’re all done playing ball.”
The opportunity to watch Rivera pitch in person for the first time erased any of the frustration Kimbrel might have felt after allowing two soft singles and then inducing a double play before Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis delivered an opposite-field RBI double that bounced over the left-center-field fence.
“I got the double play,” Kimbrel said. “I thought I had a good chance to get out of it, but I fell behind in the count. Any time you fall behind in the count and you have to throw a fastball, your chances go down. Kipnis was able to put good wood on it and hit it the other way.”
Given he is less than three full seasons into his career, it seems somewhat sacrilegious to even attempt to put Kimbrel in Rivera’s category. But it at least seems worth noting that the Braves closer is currently on a pace that puts him ahead of where Rivera was at the same point of his career.
Kimbrel has compiled a 1.47 ERA while converting 115 saves with a 89.1 percent success rate through the first 199 appearances of his career.
Rivera’s career path was slightly different given the fact that he made 10 starts before being exclusively used as a reliever. But through the first 199 relief appearances of his career, Rivera had compiled a 2.16 ERA and converted 89 saves at an 82.4 percent success rate.
“What Craig has done in his first three years in baseball has never been done before,” McCann said. “The numbers he’s putting up are gaudy. He’s definitely the guy everyone around baseball sees as the best. I think he is and I think he’s only going to get better and better.”
PHILADELPHIA — Braves fans came to expect to see Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz pitching in All-Star Games on a regular basis throughout the 1990s. Two decades later, they are starting to get the same feeling about Craig Kimbrel.
When the All-Star rosters were announced Saturday night, Kimbrel was the only Braves player to gain a spot on this year’s National League squad, though first baseman Freddie Freeman was one of five players named to the NL Final Vote ballot. This marks the third consecutive selection for Kimbrel, who has established himself as one of the game’s premier relievers since becoming Atlanta’s closer in 2011.
“It feels pretty good,” Kimbrel said. “It’s obviously an honor to get that honor. To do it for a third straight year, it’s pretty cool.”
Kimbrel is the first Braves pitcher since 1998 to earn three consecutive All-Star berths. Maddux earned five consecutive selections from 1994-98, and Glavine gained three straight selections twice (1991-93 and ’96-98).
“[Kimbrel is] one of the elite closers in the game,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Good for us that he’s going to represent us.”
Despite the fact that the Braves have sat atop the National League East standings throughout this season, it was not necessarily surprising that Kimbrel was the only member of the team to gain a selection.
The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field on Tuesday, July 16.
Kimbrel’s first All-Selection came when he was added as a reserve two days before the 2011 Midsummer Classic was played in Phoenix. But his past two selections have come with no surprise.
“I think he’s the best reliever in baseball,” six-time All-Star catcher Brian McCann said. “I think he’s been that since he put on a Braves uniform. He deserves to be there.”
While Kimbrel has not matched the dominance he displayed last year while producing one of the finest seasons in history, he has maintained his status as one of baseball’s premier closers. The hard-throwing right-hander has compiled a 1.72 ERA and limited opponents to a .198 batting average.
Kimbrel has converted 23 of 26 save opportunities, including each of his past 13 dating back to May 9. He had worked 17 consecutive scoreless innings before allowing a run in the ninth inning of Thursday’s loss to the Marlins.
“Making the All-Star team says you have had a good start to the year,” Kimbrel said. “But that’s not the end of it. We still have a lot of work to do. Just because you make the All-Star team doesn’t mean you’ve had a successful season. It just means you’ve had a successful first half. So hopefully, I can follow up the second half like I did the second half.”
ATLANTA — After completing one of the most impressive seasons by a reliever, Craig Kimbrel spent time this past winter reflecting on his accomplishments with the understanding that he may not repeat last year’s utter dominance.
“I went into the start of Spring Training and the beginning of this season telling myself not to set my expectations to where my numbers have to be where they were last year because that is pretty hard,” Kimbrel said.
Kimbrel’s statistics are not nearly as eye-popping as they were last year, when he struck out more than half of the batters he faced (116 of 231) and compiled a sparkling 1.01 ERA while converting 42 of his 45 save opportunities. Adding to the wonder of his season, the Braves right-hander did not allow a hit or issue a walk in 32 of his 61 appearances.
Kimbrel has allowed at least one opposing hitter to reach safely in 20 of his first 31 appearances this year. His 12.76 strikeouts per nine innings through this season’s first 82 games doesn’t approach the record-setting 16.66 ratio he produced last year. But a look at Kimbrel’s statistics does not weaken the evidence that he currently stands as baseball’s premier closer. He has converted 23 of 26 save opportunities, and his 1.48 ERA leads all Major League relievers who have compiled at least 10 save opportunities.
“I’m not looking at my numbers thinking, ‘I need to get back to where I was last year,’ because what I did last year was pretty amazing,” Kimbrel said. “Sitting back and looking at it, it’s kind of hard to believe. There was a lot of luck and good timing that goes into that kind of stuff.”
All indications are that Kimbrel will earn his third consecutive All-Star selection when the rosters for this year’s Midsummer Classic are announced on Saturday. The other NL closers who seem most likely to earn selections include Pittsburgh’s Jason Grilli, who has notched a league-leading 27 saves, and St. Louis’ Edward Mujica, who has successfully converted each of his 21 save opportunities.
There is no doubt Grilli has earned a roster spot as he has posted a 1.72 ERA and limited opponents to a .225 on-base percentage. Mujica’s credentials include a 2.20 ERA and the Major League-leading .198 on-base percentage he has surrendered.
The .186 on-base percentage Kimbrel surrendered last year ranked as the third-best mark posted in a season by a reliever. The only two better marks were notched by Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley in 1990 (.172) and 1989 (.175).
Kimbrel ranks 21st among all qualified NL relievers with the .277 on-base percentage he has surrendered this year. But he has consistently escaped potentially damaging situations. The most impressive example occurred last week in Kansas City, where he ended a threat after the Royals put runners on the corners with no outs in the ninth inning of a one-run game.
“Maybe one or two closers in the game get out of that without giving up a run,” Braves veteran catcher Gerald Laird said.
Even though Kimbrel did not allow a run in his first nine appearances this season, he did not necessarily feel he was where needed to be. He believes this was likely a result of his decision to begin throwing a little bit later this winter in anticipation of competing in the World Baseball Classic.
While Kimbrel made every attempt to be ready for the Classic, he did not want to push himself too hard, too early and pay the price down the stretch this year.
“Even though I had relatively good numbers in April, I didn’t feel like I was 100 percent there,” Kimbrel said. “I do now. I might switch it up next year and be a little more prepared coming into the season. They always say, ‘You can’t win a division in April, but you can put yourself behind.’ I don’t want to be that guy that puts us behind.”
Kimbrel has allowed runs in just three games this year and each came during six appearances from April 24-May 7. The first two runs he allowed came on Dexter Fowler’s two-out, game-tying double that Justin Upton misplayed in the ninth inning at Coors Field. David Wright’s game-tying home run in the ninth inning on May 3 extended Kimbrel’s rough stretch, which concluded when he allowed back-to-back solo home runs in the ninth inning of a May 7 loss in Cincinnati.
Kimbrel has returned to form since blowing those three save opportunities. He has not allowed a run in the 17 appearances that have followed. More encouraging to the Braves might be the fact that he has struck out 11 of the past 27 batters he has faced.
“I had a week or two that wasn’t very pretty,” Kimbrel said. “But ever since then, I feel things have been going the right way. I don’t look at my numbers saying, ‘This is where I need to be’ or ‘This is how many saves.’ My job is to go out there and save games, and the more time I do that, the more times we’re going to win.”
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) – Craig Kimbrel had 1 of the greatest ever seasons for a major league relief pitcher, then capped it with a wedding and, on the first week of spring training, his first hole-in-one.
Now, he’s the 2012 Alabama Professional Athlete of the Year, as awarded by the Alabama Sports Writers Association.
Kimbrel led a ballot that included the Minnesota Twins’ Josh Willingham, pro boxer Deontay Wilder, pro golfer Jason Dufner, NBA players Mo Williams and DeMarcus Cousins and NFL players Julio Jones, Trent Richardson and DeMarcus Ware. He will be honored at the association’s annual convention this weekend in Jacksonville.
Kimbrel, in his third season with the Atlanta Braves, is a native of Huntsville, where he played for Lee High School. He pitched two years at Wallace State-Hanceville before the Braves made him their third-round pick in the 2008 draft.
Kimbrel was in the majors less than two years after signing with Atlanta and was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2011, his first full season in the majors.
In 2012, Kimbrel had a 1.01 ERA, led the league with 42 saves (in 45 opportunities) and struck out 116 batters in 62.1 innings, in which he allowed only 27 hits.
Those are historic numbers. Opponents batted only .123 against Kimbrel, the lowest in the majors since 1900 (with a minimum of 60 innings pitched). No pitcher has ever averaged 16.5 strikeouts per nine innings and his 4.3 to 1 strikeouts-to-hits ratio was the best in the “live ball” era, nor has anyone retired 49.8% of hitters by strikeouts in that era.
“I’m not going to go out there and try to strike everybody out. I’m just going to go out there and try to get outs,” says Kimbrel.
“He’s got electric stuff,” says teammate Tim Hudson, the former Auburn pitcher and a 2-time winner of the ASWA award. “There’s just no other way to describe it.”
Kimbrel, who turned 25 on May 28, was named to the National League All-Star team for the second time and was selected for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
“If he can do this for a 10-, 12-year career span, he’ll be up there with some of the big names and closers, you know, the (Mariano) Riveras and (Trevor) Hoffmans and those type of guys,” says Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Previous winners of the award include Hank Aaron, Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, John Stallworth, Kenny Stabler, John Hannah and Ozzie Newsome.
On Thursday, Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel stopped by SportsNation to chat about the baseball season.
Kimbrel, @kimbrel46, has led the National League in saves the last two seasons. He set a rookie single season saves record in 2011 with 46, en route to the Rookie of the Year. He was the first pitcher to lead the league in saves in his first two years since Rawly Eastwick in 1975-76.
SAN FRANCISCO — When Craig Kimbrel struck out four of the six batters he faced while helping the Braves win Game 2 of the 2010 National League Division Series against the Giants, he was a highly regarded middle reliever who was showing signs of his great potential.
Visions of that memorable outing danced through Kimbrel’s head after he notched his 100th career save while standing on that same AT&T Park mound during the Braves’ 6-3 win over the Giants on Thursday night.
“It felt like it was yesterday when we were out here in the playoffs,” Kimbrel said. “It’s gone by really fast. I’m definitely taking it in a little bit. It’s definitely nice to get that milestone and just move on. We still have a long season to go and hopefully we can get a lot more.”
Last week, Kimbrel was in position to reach the century mark in the third-fewest appearances in Major League history. But that was before he allowed a two-out, ninth-inning home run to David Wright on Friday and two more home runs with two outs in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Reds.
Still 17 days shy of his 25th birthday, Kimbrel is the second-youngest pitcher to reach 100 saves. Francisco Rodriguez became the youngest when he reached the century mark 246 days after his 24th birthday.
“I wanted to get back out there yesterday, but the guys scored too many runs,” Kimbrel said. “So it was good to get back out there. I’m still working on a few things. I still haven’t got it 100 percent back to where I need to be. But it felt good to go back out there and throw a scoreless inning.”
Making his first appearance since Tuesday, Kimbrel retired the first two Giants batters he faced and then surrendered an Brandon Crawford’s opposite-field double before ending the game with a Brandon Belt groundout. It was a solid rebound effort for the young closer, who had blown three of his previous five save opportunities.
This season, Kimbrel has not yet shown the same kind of dominance he displayed while notching a 1.01 ERA and striking out more than half of the batters he faced last year (116 of 231).
But among all Major League relievers who have ever totaled at least 175 career appearances, he ranks first in hits per nine innings (4.95), strikeouts per nine innings (15.66), strikeouts per batter faced (.446), opponent’s on-base percentage (.241) and opponent’s batting average (.157).
“It’s crazy,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “It just feels like yesterday that we were in the 2010 postseason and that was kind of like his come out party. That’s when he let everybody know that he’s for real. What he has done in his [three years], that’s hard to do. Nobody really does that.”