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.

No Responses to “Smoltz: Save record for Kimbrel long-time coming”

Leave a Reply