Looking back at Kimbrel’s blown save, Heyward’s bunt and Teheran’s slider
If the opener was a sign of things to come, this current homestand might prove to be every bit as eventful as the action-packed road trip the Braves ended with Sunday afternoon’s 14-inning loss to the Mets.
Coming off the marathon finale in New York, the Braves proved fortunate to claim a 4-2, 10-inning victory in Monday’s series opener against the Marlins. Craig Kimbrel’s second consecutive shaky appearance netted him his first blown save of the year and it might have resulted in a loss had former Brave Reed Johnson not misread Derek Dietrich’s game-tying double off the left-center field wall. Here is Johnson’s take.
Had Johnson not hesitated believing Justin Upton was going to get to Dietrich’s long fly, the Marlins might have scored two on Dietrich’s double and set the stage for their dominant closer Steve Cishek, who has posted a 1.05 ERA and limited opponents to a .190 batting average while successfully converting each of his past 32 save opportunities dating back to June 8.
Those are Kimbrel-like numbers or at least the kind of dependability we had seen Kimbrel provide before he has produced two consecutive Kolb-like appearances since getting a chance to rest a sore right shoulder last week.
The fact that Kimbrel recorded three consecutive strikeouts following Dietrich’s game-tying nine-pitch at-bat at least minimized the concerns that began developing when Kimbrel surrendered two runs before being pulled from Saturday night’s game against the Mets with two outs in the ninth. But until he produces a couple of clean outings in a row, there will naturally be some lingering concern.
“I can go out throw 95-96 and then go out and be 98-99,” Kimbrel said Monday night. “I really can’t control that. I’m just trying to throw strikes.”
Kimbrel’s velocity has been a tick slower than normal in his past three appearances. Per Fangraphs.com, Kimbrel’s average fastball velocity during his first five appearances of this season was 96.2 mph. His average velo in the 68 appearances he made last year was 96.9 mph.
We learned Kimbrel’s shoulder was bothering him after his fasball averaged a season-low 95.5 mph during his April 12 scoreless appearance against the Nationals. Since getting a chance to rest for an entire week, his average velo in his past two appearances has been 96.4 (Saturday) and 95.6 (Monday).
All told, Kimbrel’s fastball has averaged 96 mph thus far this season, which is similar to the 96.3 average he produced during his first eight appearances last year. Given this and the fact that he says is now pain-free, his recent struggles seem to be more a product of command than his shoulder.
“I felt great, better than I had before my rest,” Kimbrel said. That’s a good sign. So we’ll go from here.”
Kimbrel said the success he had at the end of Monday night’s appearance was a product of his decision to be more aggressive with his curveball, which he used to conclude each of his three strikeouts. He missed the strike zone with three of his first four curveballs and then hit it with five of his final six.
“I was trying to throw it more for strikes more than just throw it and see what it does,” Kimbrel said. “That is what I started doing (during the latter part of the inning).”
Evan Gattis’ walk-off home run saved Kimbrel some heartache and also deflected some attention away from the fact the Braves had left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, which began with Jordan Schafer’s opposite-field double against Carlos Marmol. The Twitterverse erupted when Jason Heyward attempted to advance Schafer to third base with a sacrifice bunt.
After the game, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he had given Heyward the option to bunt in that situation.
“I left it up to him,” Gonzalez said. “Whatever he wanted to do, whatever he felt comfortable doing there. You don’t want to play extra-inning games and the chances of scoring a run from third base is greater than scoring a run from second base, especially with a guy like Marmol. With a guy on third base, maybe you take one of his breaking pitches away or his split because he doesn’t want to bounce it and let the runner score there. That was fine. I had no problems whatsoever.”
All of the late-inning action overshadowed Julio Teheran’s latest gem. Coming off his three-hit shutout of the Phillies during which he threw 115 pitches (second-highest total of his young career), Teheran needed 39 pitches to complete the first two innings. But once he regained a feel for his slider, he needed just 53 more pitches to complete his final five innings.
Teheran’s inability to consistently gain a good feel for his slider might be a product of the weather His slider accounted for 35.7 percent of the pitches he threw inside Miller Park’s dome on Opening Day. In two of the next three starts he made (including last week’s gem in Philadelphia), he used his slider less than 14 percent of the time. The game time temperature for those two starts were 51 degrees and 48 degrees.
Teheran’s slider accounted for 24.2 percent of the pitches he threw during Monday night’s game, which began with a temperature of 78 degrees. This array was similar to what he displayed when he threw his slider 21.4 percent of the time on April 11, a home game that started amid a very comfortable 71 degrees.
There really hasn’t been any reason to complain about what Teheran has done while posting a 1.80 ERA through his first five starts. But as the summer months quickly approach, you have to wonder if he will have even more opportunity to benefit from the slider, which has the potential to be his greatest weapon.