Results tagged ‘ Craig Kimbrel ’
Like many of the other members of the “A-List” Yankees, Cameron Diaz didn’t make an appearance at Disney this afternoon. But a couple blasts from the past — Tom Glavine and Craig Kimbrel’s smile — were spotted on the grounds at one point today.
Looking back on this afternoon’s 5-4 loss to the Yankees, the most encouraging development was obviously the perfect ninth inning tossed by Kimbrel. Yes, it was against three Minor Leagers and no, it wasn’t exactly picture-perfect dominance.
But this was the kind of clean outing Kimbrel needed to gain some of the confidence he was unable to gather in his first three appearances. Also in the process of the blanking the Yankees, the young reliever might have gained a feel for his curveball, which he struggled to command in his first three outings.
Kimbrel threw just two curveballs and they came in succession to start Doug Bernier’s at-bat. But it was obvious the young hurler was encouraged when he described the first pitch breaker to Bernier as “probably the best curveball that I’ve thrown all Spring.”
Kimbrel’s fastball touched 96 and after missing the strike zone with his first three pitches, he found adequate command and finished the outing in clean fashion.
As long as he starts to consistently command his curveball, Kimbrel should be fine. Jonny Venters is likely capable to handle the closer’s role.
But to be at their best, the Braves need Kimbrel to take care of their late innings with the dominant form he had last year.
Jair Jurrjens certainly wasn’t impressive while allowing four earned runs and six hits (four in a span of six batters) in four innings today. But he and Fredi Gonzalez believe he might have been predictable with either his delivery or pattern of pitches.
The Yankees recorded four stolen base attempts in Jurrjens’ four innings. Jurrjens said he might have become too predictable by only throwing offspeed pitches with a 1-1 count.
Whatever the case, Jurrjens has plenty of time to make necessary changes, whether mechanical or strategical, to protect against the running game. But he might need to make some changes to whatever has caused him to allowed nine hits and six earned runs in the seven innings that have encompassed his past two starts.
Jurrjens said he the ball felt better coming out of his hand Tuesday and the radar gun seemed to confirm with readings that rested around 90-91 and topped out at 93 mph.
There shouldn’t be much concern about Jurrjens. When he needed to win a roster spot before the 2008 season, he was sensational in the exhibition season. But about six months before he ended the 2009 season with the NL’s third-best ERA (2.60), I remember seeing him get hit around the yard in a simulated game by a couple of 19-year-old kids named Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman.
That’s all for today. See ya tomorrow.
When Billy Wagner limped off the field Friday night, I’m sure many of you were saying, “enough is enough.” Now the Braves can only hope that enough doesn’t prove to be too much.
Without Chipper Jones, the Braves could lean on Martin Prado. Without Jones and Prado, the Braves find themselves leaning on the hope that their pitching staff will require scoring just a couple of runs or that Giants closer Brian Wilson is asked to record six outs.
Without Wagner, the Braves have lost the best closer they ever had not named Smoltz. But with Craig Kimbrel already providing indication that he could soon fit in that elite category, they find themselves capable of surviving without Wagner.
Manager Bobby Cox has said that he might also utilized Jonny Venters, Peter Moylan or Kyle Farnsworth in the closer’s role, based on the situation of the game. But right now, Kimbrel legitimately stands as one of the game’s most impressive relievers.
Dating back to Sept. 9 (when Kimbrel made his first appearance after the completion of Triple-A Gwinnett’s season) and extending through the end of the regular season, Kimbrel and Wagner led the Majors (min. 10 IP) with 18.26 strikeouts per nine innings.
Here’s how similar Wagner and Kimbrel truly were dating back to Sept. 9:
Wagner: 11.1 IP, 4 H, 2 runs, 1 ER, 5 BBs, 23 Ks
Kimbrel: 11.1 IP, 4 H, 0 runs, 5 BBs, 23 Ks.
Kimbrel obviously has nowhere near the valuable experience Wagner has acquired during his storied career. But the 22-year-old right-hander certainly showed great poise while delivering those two scoreless innings in enemy territory to keep the game scored heading into the 10th inning Friday night.
With Tim Hudson opposing Jonathan Sanchez this afternoon, the Braves will be looking to win a game that has proven pivotal in most other NLDS.
The team that has won Game 3 to claim a 2-1 series lead has gone on to win the NLDS 15 of 16 times. Unfortunately for the Braves, the lone exception came after they won two of the first three games they played against the 2002 Giants.
While we’re sitting through a rain delay here at PNC Park, here are some tidbits that were gathered this afternoon.
Braves manager Bobby Cox opted to rest Troy Glaus tonight and start Eric Hinske at first base tonight. While Glaus could certainly benefit from a break, I think Cox also saw this as an opportunity to give Melky Cabrera a chance to get rolling. With Hinske at first base, Cabrera will be be in left field.
The switch-hitting Cabrera is hitting just .200 this season but has posted a .237 mark against right-handed pitchers. Virtually everybody has hit Pirate starter Charlie Morton this year. But he has had his greatest troubles against left-handed hitters, who have compiled a .350 batting average against him.
Heyward’s improved approach: It does seem like Jason Heyward has been a little less selective since Cox suggested that he be more aggressive early in the count. But Heyward thinks the success he has experienced over the past three weeks is just a product of the natural development process.
During the first 20 games of his career, Heyward hit .224 (15-for-67) with four homers 25 strikeouts and a .358 on-base percentage. In the 18 games he played since Cox expressed his desire, the Braves 20-year-old right fielder hit .367 (22-for-60) with five homers, five strikeouts and a .458 on-base percentage. <p>
His ability to significantly improve his on-base percentage seems to be product of the fact that he struck out once every 2.68 at-bats during his first 20 games and just once every 12 at-bats during the 18 games he has played since Cox told media members that his young outfielder needed to start swinging the bat a little more often. <p>
“You can’t hit with two strikes against you every at-bat,” Cox said. “Especially with runners on, if you get a pitch to hit, you better hit it. He’s smart. He’s got a great idea at the plate every at-bat. He’s not going to swing at the first pitch, unless it’s a great pitch.” <p>
To his credit, Heyward didn’t then immediately evolve into a free-swinger. He still has put the first pitch of an at-bat in play just six times in his career. But it does feel like he is drawing hitter’s counts much more frequently than he did during the early weeks of the season.
Entering Saturday, he was hitting .192 (14-for-73) when ending an at-bat with a two-strike count. But when he had put a ball in play when ahead in the count, he had hit .356 (16-for-45).
Kimbrel needs more time: The decision to send Craig Kimbrel back to Triple-A Gwinnett further proved why the Braves felt the need to hire Dave Wallace as their new Minor League pitching instructor this offseason.
With Kent Willis handling this role over the course of the past few years, the Braves too often found themselves stocking their Major League pitching staff with young pitchers who still hadn’t learned the finer points of their craft.
There are still some concerns about Kimbrel’s control. But the six walks he issued in 3 1/3 innings for Atlanta were likely a product of nerves. The kid threw strikes while at Gwinnett earlier this year and he’ll likely show this same kind of control when he returns to Atlanta.
More alarming to the Braves Major League coaching staff was the fact that Kimbrel proved to be very slow to the plate while throwing all of his pitches from the stretch. In order to maximize the potential of his tremendous arm, the 21-year-old right-hander will spend the next few weeks and possibly months developing a delivery that will allow him to be less susceptible against opposing basestealers.
Kawakami Update: Kenshin Kawakami’s back discomfort has subsided over the past few days and he is expected to make his start against the Marlins on Tuesday.
Looks like we’ll get this game started at some point tonight. But as of 7:50 p.m. ET, the tarp was still on the field.
Jair Jurrjens’ strained left hamstring has provided Craig Kimbrel a chance to get his first taste of the Major League scene.
Before Wednesday night’s game against the Nationals, the Braves placed Jurrjens on the 15-day disabled list and purchased Kimbrel’s contract from Triple-A Gwinnett.
Kimbrel, the hard-throwing right-hander who is regarded as the club’s future closer, was attempting to get to Washington D.C. before or during Wednesday’s game.
By the time the Braves made the decision to disable Jurrjens, Kimbrel was either traveling or preparing to travel with his Gwinnett teammates from Atlanta to Syracuse, NY.
Kris Medlen will now make Saturday afternoon’s start against the Phillies. Medlen completed a season-high three innings against the Cardinals on Thursday afternoon after Jurrjens was forced to exit after one inning because of the hamstring strain. <p>
As many of the Braves pitchers are running and throwing in the bright green Turner Field outfield grass, manager Bobby Cox, general manager Frank Wren and the members of the coaching staff are discussing their final roster decisions.
It’s 3:15 p.m. ET and within the next hour or two we could learn who is going to fill the final two bullpen spots and whether the final spot for a position player will go to either Brooks Conrad or Joe Thurston.
While I am pretty confident that the final two bullpen spots will be given to Jesse Chavez and Jo-Jo Reyes, I’m not going to be shocked if the Braves select Conrad or Thurston to begin the season as an extra utility player.
The similarities between Conrad and Thurston extend far beyond the fact that their defensive abilities limit them to second base and third base. Conrad runs a little better and draws the benefit of being a switch-hitter.
Based solely on their offensive performances during the Grapefruit League season, Thurston would be the easy choice. While he has finished strong and improved his batting average to .319 through 47 at-bats, Conrad has slumped and enters today hitting just .229 in 48 at-bats.
But as you know, these decisions are never solely based on statistics compiled during Spring Training.
Despite the fact that Conrad has struggled with the bat recently, I still think his advantage comes from the fact that he was with the organization last year. In the process, the Braves came to appreciate the work ethic and no-nonsense approach that he brought to the park every day.
At the same time, Thurston must have been doing something right while appearing in 124 games last year for a Cardinals team that won the National League Central. In the 64 games that he started he hit .227 and in his 61 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, he hit .216 with a .344 on-base percentage.
Reyes and Chavez will likely earn the final roster spots solely based on their experience. Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters have much higher upsides and the need to spend a few more weeks or months nurturing their skills at the Minor League level.
The potential ramifications of having Reyes begin the year in the bullpen have been discussed. But with Kris Medlen available to serve as an emergency starter, the Braves seem willing to roll the dice through that they can escape the first 4-6 weeks of the season without having to deal with a rash of injuries in their starting rotation.
Medlen is certainly capable of making a few starts if necessary. And if the Braves were to lose two starters during the early portion of the season, they would have a problem that would trump the fact that one of their most glaring weaknesses entering the season is the fact that they don’t have any enviable depth beyond their first five starting pitchers.
Heading down to the clubhouse. I’ll be back shortly with the decisions.
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Jason Heyward said that he hopes to return to action tomorrow and Craig Kimbrel now knows that he will begin the upcoming season as Triple-A Gwinnett’s closer.
As the Braves prepare to oppose CC Sabathia and the Yankees this afternoon, you can devour these mostly injury-related tidbits that were gathered during batting practice.
While Yunel Escobar’s back was healthy enough for him to return to return to today’s lineup, the Braves are going to give Heyward at least one more day to rest the shin splints that began bothering him on Sunday.
When I spoke with Heyward this morning he said, “I hope to play tomorrow.” But the 20-year-old outfielder added, “I know this is something that isn’t just going to go away immediately.”
While Bobby Cox said that there’s a chance Heyward might play tomorrow against the Astros, his tone provided indication that he might wait until at least Thursday before putting his 20-year-old phenom back in the lineup.
Having already compiled 49 at-bats during the Grapefruit League season, Heyward has made all of his necessary preparations for the season. Even if he rests for another day or two, he’ll still be able to get his timing back while playing the final games of the exhibition season.
Heyward took batting practice this morning and provided further indication that there isn’t any reason to think he won’t be ready for Monday afternoon’s Opening Day game against the Cubs.
Backup catcher David Ross still seems confident that he will be available on Opening Day. But Ross, who also experienced a pain-free batting practice session this morning, will spend the next couple of days testing the strength of the right groin muscle that he strained on Thursday.
Ross’ concerns were further diminished this morning, when he was able to run sprints and do striders without feeling any discomfort.
As for Jordan Schafer, he has recently started taking live batting practice and believes he could join the Gwinnett roster at the end of April. The 23-year-old center fielder said that he’s been able to strengthen his surgically-repaired left hand and is no longer bothered by the fatigue that it presented earlier this year.
Kimbrel impresses: With 14 career appearances above the Class A level, Kimbrel arrived in camp as a long shot to win a bullpen spot. But the 21-year-old right-hander certainly made a strong impression before learning this morning that he will begin the season as Triple-A Gwinnett’s closer.
Based on what he saw, Cox said that Kimbrel already has the stuff to be a successful pitcher at the big league level. But the Braves want him to continue improving his command through the regular work that he wouldn’t receive if he began the season in the Atlanta bullpen.
Kimbrel will remain with the big league club this week and will likely make an appearance during one of the exhibition games played against the White Sox this weekend.
First time for everything: Having been involved in professional baseball since arriving in Dodgers Minor League camp in 1960, Cox has seen plenty of oddities the game can present But when the Yankees send Pat Venditte to the mound this afternoon, the Braves manager will see an ambidextrous pitcher for the first time.
Venditte pitched for the Venezuelan Winter League team managed by Eddie Perez this past winter. Perez said the young Minor Leaguer has good stuff from both sides of the plate, but is especially effective against left-handed hitters.
You can watch today’s game on MLB.TV and CSS. Brian Jordan and Mike Morgan will serve as the broadcasters.
Before this afternoon’s game against the Phillies, I mentioned that I felt the final two bullpen spots would be claimed by Jo-Jo Reyes and Jesse Chavez. A few hours later, I’m willing to make this assumption with greater confidence and also say that I think Brooks Conrad currently holds the lead in the battle for the last roster spot for a position player.
Conrad ended an 0-for-15 slump that extended back to March 18 with a seventh-inning homer this afternoon off Chad Durbin. But my thinking has more to do with the fact that even during his prolonged slump the Braves never soured on this journeyman, who gained a lot of favor with the work ethic he brought to the park during his short stints with Atlanta last year.
Had Thurston been in the Braves organization last year he might have gained the same advantage. So far he has proven to be the same kind of likable player who is very similar to Conrad in many ways.
But if I had to guess right now, the nod will go to Conrad, who also draws the advantage provided by the fact that he is already on the 40-man roster and Thurston isn’t.
“Brooksy did a great job for us last year,” Bobby Cox said. “He won us some games.”
Chavez at least regained his sanity this afternoon while working a perfect inning against the Phillies. During his previous two outings, he had worked 1 1/3 innings, allowed 11 hits (all singles) and eight earned runs.
“The last two outings haven’t been indicative of the way he’s pitched,” Cox said. “He kept the ball down and he did it again today. It was the same as the last two times for me.”
Cox has repeatedly pointed out that Chavez was marred by bad luck in those previous two outings and those who witnessed both could certainly back up my belief that this wasn’t just another case where the veteran manager was going out of his way to back up a player that didn’t deserve to be defended.
When we approached Chavez this afternoon, he looked relieved. Thinking back on his two previous outings, he could only laugh and say, “what did I give up like 11 singles and only about half of them even left the infield?”
“I’m not the first to say it, but I’m not a spring pitcher,” said Chavez, who was a surprise addition to Pittsburgh’s Opening Day roster last year. “But this is what it’s for. Get them out of the way now and be ready to roll once the lights turn on.”
It was interesting to hear Cox say after today’s game that there is some concern about putting Reyes in the bullpen to start this year because of the fact that as a starter at Gwinnett he would provide insurance if one of the members of the Atlanta rotation was sidelined.
“It’s a predicament because Jo-Jo is a starter/backup guy if we send him out,” Cox said. “If we keep him, he could help us here too.”
With Reyes pitching two perfect innings today and Jonny Venters seemingly crumbling under the pressure while allowing the Phillies three runs in just two-thirds of an inning, there’s even more reason to believe the Braves would rather go with Reyes.
Venters allowed a leadoff double to Jimmy Rollins and issued consecutive walks to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (with the bases loaded) before recording his first out. As for Craig Kimbrel, the only thing he surrendered while going up against Utley, Howard, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino was a single by Howard.
But the Braves seem to be shying away from sending the still-green Kimbrel to the Majors with just 14 games of experience above the Class A Minor League level. With this being said, he’s shown enough to lead me to expect to see him in Atlanta at some point this year.
If all of this proves to be true, those final bullpen spots will go to Chavez and Reyes. And if the Braves are really hesitant about the fact that they don’t have much depth in the starting pitching department, they could send Reyes to Gwinnett to get stretched out when Scott Proctor is deemed ready to join the Atlanta bullpen.
While Kris Medlen is certainly capable of making a spot start if necessary, his positioning in the rotation could weaken the bullpen’s depth. As mentioned last week, this young right-hander has proven that his versatility extends to his ability to be a detriment to left-handed hitters.
With Medlen in the bullpen mix, the Braves could be confident carrying Eric O’Flaherty as their only true left-handed middle reliever.
With ominous rain clouds hovering around the Disney area this morning, Jair Jurrjens and Nate Mclouth may have to alter today’s plans.
But it now appears that Mother Nature may cooperate until at least 2 p.m. ET. This would likely allow Jurrjens the chance to complete the four innings that he is scheduled to pitch against the Cardinals today.
If rain prevents the Braves and Cardinals from playing this afternoon, Jurrjens would get his work in during a Minor League game tomorrow.
Because the Braves slated each of their pitchers to have at least one extra day of rest before their first regular season start, Jurrjens would still be on a normal schedule leading up to his season debut on April 7 against the Cubs.
Speaking of Minor League games, McLouth was originally slated to bat eighth during this afternoon’s game against the Cardinals. But the Braves decided it would be better to have him head to one of the back fields today to rack up some at-bats against Minor Leaguers.
If this Minor League game is played, McLouth would be able to compile nine at-bats (one per inning) and possibly get out of the funk that has led him to record just one hit and 14 strikeouts in his first 35 at-bats this year.
If Mother Nature prevents play today, McLouth could certainly attempt to compile these at-bats during the same Minor League game that Jurrjens would be pitching in tomorrow.
Second round of cuts: The battle for the final two available spots in the Braves bullpen lost a few candidates this morning, when it was revealed that right-hander Jeff Lyman and left-handers Mike Dunn and Mariano Gomez will spend the rest of camp on the Minor League side.
Dunn and Lyman were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. Gomez was among four players re-assigned to Minor League camp. The others were catcher Orlando Mercado and outfielders Mitch Jones and Brent Clevlen.
While Dunn showed the strong arm the Braves knew they were getting when they acquired him as part of the deal that sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees, he also displayed the inconsistent command that has been present since he ended his days as a position player at the conclusion of the 2006 season.
“Dunn has that good arm,” Cox said. “He just needs more command of that fastball. He rushes out there a little too much. It’s just a matter of command.”
Lyman, who allowed one run and recorded five strikeouts in four innings, also impressed Cox during his first big league camp.
But as we move forward, it now appears that the battle for the final two bullpen spots will be waged between Scott Proctor, Jesse Chavez, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Jo-Jo Reyes and Manny Acosta.
It still seems optimistic to think that Proctor, who is just 10 1/2 months removed from Tommy John surgery, would be ready by Opening Day. Cox understands that the veteran right-hander wouldn’t be available on a regular basis during the early weeks of the season.
But with some scheduled offdays present during this two-week stretch, Cox is still at least keeping this possibility alive.
Assuming that Proctor begins the season on the disabled list, Chavez, Venters and Reyes could be deemed the front-runners in this competition. Kimbrel undoubtedly has the greatest upside and it’s obvious that Cox really likes this young flamethower.
But Kimbrel could benefit from a little more Minor League seasoning and the Braves would have reason to be reluctant to open a 40-man roster spot for him with the understanding that he might be sent back down when Proctor is deemed ready.
Chavez has pitched more effectively since struggling in his first two outings and has the experience that he gained while making 73 appearances for the Pirates last year.
Venters or Reyes would team with Eric O’Flaherty to give the Braves two left-handed options during the middle innings.
With the lack of depth in the starting pitching department, it still would seemingly benefit the Braves to have Reyes start the year with Gwinnett and be stretched out in the event that one of Atlanta’s starting pitchers goes down with an injury.
While Kris Medlen would be available to make a spot start or fill a vacant rotation spot for an extended stretch, you could argue that his move into a starter’s role weakens the depth that could benefit the Braves as they attempt to protect the arms of Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito and Proctor.
Still with Reyes pitching just one inning in his past two outings, it seems the Braves are seriously thinking about having him begin the year in Atlanta’s bullpen.
Cox has routinely praised Venters’ sinker and history has shown that he likes to have a pitcher (think Kevin Gryboski) like this available to utilize when there’s a need to erase a threat with a double-play groundout.
BRAVES LINEUP vs. Cardinals
The Braves will be going back to Atlanta in 15 days and as things currently stand there isn’t any way to confidently state who is going to win their final available roster spots.
We entered camp with the belief that Mitch Jones, Brent Clevlen, Joe Thurston and Brooks Conrad would battle for the one spot available for a position player. Nearly a month later, it looks like this is a two-man race being closely contested by Thurston and Conrad.
Thurston and Conrad have enjoyed nearly identical success at the plate. Both have hit .333 (8-for-24) with a .533 slugging percentage. Thurston has hit one more homer (2-1) and Conrad has compiled the better on-base percentage (.448 versus .360) with the assistance he has gained through an advantage in the walk (5-1) department.
Both of these Minor League journeyman’s defensive versatility limits them to second base and third base. If you’re looking for a current tiebreaker, it would likely come via the number of dazzling defensive plays Conrad has played at second base.
“He has made more great plays than anybody else in the state of Florida,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
Entering camp it appeared there would be two available spots in the bullpen and during the early days Jesse Chavez emerged as a favorite for one of those spots. But after struggling in his first two outings, Chavez fell back in the heat of a competition that could be won by a couple of underdogs.
Chavez, who hasn’t allowed a run in his past two outings, Manny Acosta and left-handers Mike Dunn and Mariano Gomez are scheduled to follow starter Tommy Hanson during this afternoon’s game against the Marlins.
While each of these hurlers still appear to be in the mix for one of the final two spots in the bullpen, Craig Kimbrel and left-hander Jonny Venters seem to be moving to the top of the list of candidates.
As you know, Cox has routinely praised Kimbrel, who has allowed just two hits in four scoreless innings. In addition, the veteran manager has continued to talk about the “super sinker” thrown by Venters, who has allowed just one earned run in his 5 1/3 innings.
This isn’t to say that Venters and Kimbrel have emerged as the definitive favorites in this battle. But it seems pretty safe to say that both of these non-roster invitees are at least in the lead pack.
NOTES: Today’s game is being televised by MLB.TV, SportSouth and MLB Network. The folks at Fox Sports Net, which owns SportSouth, decided to have a split broadcast with Braves announcer Joe Simpson working in the booth with Marlins announcer Rich Waltz.
If everybody is in the sharing spirit down here in Jupiter, do you think the Cardinals could loan their first baseman when the Braves conclude their two-day swing in Jupiter tomorrow afternoon.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day and yes this is why the Braves are wearing their green hats against the Marlins today.
Braves lineup for Wednesday’s game @ Marlins
Jason Heyward isn’t the only young player who has made a solid impression during this year’s camp. Braves manager Bobby Cox has obviously taken a liking to Craig Kimbrel, a 21-year-old right-handed reliever who will make an appearance during this afternoon’s game against the Astros here in Kissimmee.
Regardless of today’s results, it appears that Kimbrel will escape the first round of cuts, which the Braves will announce on Monday.
“We’re going to keep him around for a little while,” Cox said. “We like him a lot.”
Check braves.com after today’s game to view more of Cox’s thoughts on Kimbrel, who could make a rapid rise to the Majors when he proves that he can consistently avoid some of the control problems that have occasionally plagued him during his two professional seasons.
This year will mark the last time that Cox is forced to tell some Minor Leaguers that their dreams of finding a spot on the Opening Day roster have come to an end. It’s a responsibility that he’s held during each of the past four decades and to this day he still hates having to tell a player that he’s been cut.
“There’s no easy way to do it,” Cox said. “Some of them are obvious, but some of the later ones are tough to do.”
BRAVES LINEUP vs. ASTROS
BRAVES LINEUP vs. BLUE JAYS
Cody Johnson DH
Joe Thurston 5
Kris Medlen will start for the split-squad team that is playing the Blue Jays in Dunedin today.