Closer Kimbrel struggles in Braves’ spring opener

PORT. ST. LUCIE, Fla. – The Braves’ Grapefruit League opening day started with a fan holding up a sign that said “Marry Me Fredi” during batting practice, and ended with a proverbial kissing-your-sister 5-5, 10-inning tie against the New York Mets.

In between, there was plenty to recommend but also some rough spots to work on for new manager Fredi Gonzalez’s Braves, who blew three leads and wasted a 3-for-3, three-double game by rookie Freddie Freeman in his debut as the starting first baseman.

Eric Hinske homered and utility infield candidate Ed Lucas had a pair of RBI singles off the bench for the Braves, who led 5-3 before Willie Harris – the ex-Brave who seems to haunt the team — hit a two-run homer in the 10th off minor leaguer Michael Broadway.

“On to tomorrow,” said Gonzalez, whose Braves face the Mets again Sunday in the home opener at ESPN Wide World of Sports, where second baseman Dan Uggla is set to make his Braves debut and Chipper Jones is penciled in as designated hitter.

The Braves used nine pitchers Saturday and got good work from six, including starter Jair Jurrjens, who gave up two hits and no walks in two scoreless innings. But it was a rocky first outing from rookie closer Craig Kimbrel, to say the least.

Kimbrel allowed two runs, two hits and two walks while recording one out in the fifth inning and blowing a 2-0 lead.

“First time out in spring training — not a big deal,” said Gonzalez, who plans to use Kimbrel and left-hander Jonny Venters in a co-closer role at least in the early part of the regular season, until one of them shows he should be the primary guy.

Kimbrel struck out 40 in 20-2/3 regular-season innings last season as a rookie, but  issued 16 walks. After walking 11 in his first nine games for Atlanta, he issued only seven walks in his final 16 games, including one walk with seven strikeouts in 4-1/3 postseason innings.

He didn’t seem worried about his shaky command or his velocity Saturday, when most of his fastballs were several ticks below his usual mid- to high-90 mph heat.

“I don’t think command was the problem,” said Kimbrel, who gave up a double to Scott Hairston to start the fifth, followed by a two-run homer by Fernando Martinez, then two walks to the last four batters he faced before being replaced.

Second baseman Brooks Conrad also made an error that helped extend the inning.

“I did walk those guys. I went deep into some counts with guys fouling them off,” Kimbrel said. “It’s early. I don’t have all my stuff right now. I’m working my way.

“If towards the end of spring training I’m throwing like that, I’d probably be a little bit more worried.”

Kimbrel is scheduled to pitch again Wednesday against the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla.

“I’m looking forward to my next outing, and hopefully with each outing I’ll improve on what I’m working on,” he said. “Hopefully things will keep getting better and better…

“My arm felt good. No problems. It’s still early. It’s a process to get ready for the season, and we’re still at the beginning of it.”

Jurrjens threw 23 strikes in 34 pitches and again sounded like a rejuvenated man.

He’s talked all spring about how good and how relieved he’s felt to be healthy after an injury-filled season in which he made just 20 starts qne missed the stretch drive and postseason series with a knee injury that required October arthroscopic surgery.

“I just wanted to go out there and be aggressive with the fastball, work on the control and location, make good pitches and not try to overthrow,” Jurrjens said. “Just be nice and easy, hit my spots.

He had one strikeout and four groundouts.

“I just wanted to pitch for contact,” he said. “Try to make my pitches sink, keep the ball down, and just make them swing. I was trying to have as quick innings as possible.”

42 comments Add your comment

B

February 26th, 2011
6:32 pm

NickB

February 26th, 2011
6:33 pm

Good to see Freeman starting off hot. For the rest of the game… meh, it’s early. Heck some pitchers have been known to throw nothing but breaking pitches for entire innings to get good work in! No worries!

JHeyBravos

February 26th, 2011
6:34 pm

Freeman is the man

NCBrave

February 26th, 2011
6:34 pm

First!
Go Braves.
Freeman is a beast!

Braves fan in Augusta

February 26th, 2011
6:51 pm

Oh and by the way Conrad made an error in his first appearance after costing us in the playoffs

stew

February 26th, 2011
7:02 pm

How many pitches did Kimbrel throw? I don’t wnat him throwing 20 pitches in an inning. I don’t want a pitcher who gets in trouble to try to get out of it. He certainly didn’t have velocity, but neither did JJ. In fact, I don’t recall seeing 90 on the guns all day. I thought maybe the guns were off and then I thought maybe they’re taking it easy first time out.

justin1

February 26th, 2011
7:05 pm

Does anyone know if tomorrow the game will be televised in the Atlanta area on normal cable??

And yes, I am looking forward to seeing Freeman hit like that this year when it matters. Heyward got pretty pull-happy last year and stopped doing the fundamentals that got him to the Bigs in the first place. He still had an outstanding season, but if he would get back to using all fields, he will be a .300 hitter with 30 HRs.
Freeman will make Jason better.

Brava

February 26th, 2011
7:07 pm

Freddie exceeded any expectations I had for him today. Wow! What a way to show up!

As for Kimbrel, the guy is a great pitcher who had a bad day. It happens.

Brava

February 26th, 2011
7:08 pm

justin1, no, the game tomorrow will not be televised. The next televised Braves game is March 3 on ESPN.

justin1

February 26th, 2011
7:11 pm

That sucks. Thanks.

At least we have the best radio announcers in the Bigs. Powell and Sutton are awesome.

Frank's Wren

February 26th, 2011
7:28 pm

I’m not worried about Kimbrel at this point. Give him a couple of weeks to get the kinks out.

Conrad…

Coach D

February 26th, 2011
8:06 pm

Freddi Freeman… The first first baseman to bat 1000.00! Go BOY!

RomeDawg

February 26th, 2011
8:16 pm

Hey Frank,

You better be worried about Kimbrel! Successful closers don’t walk people like he does. Does the name Armando Benetiz ring a bell?

uggla's forearms

February 26th, 2011
8:51 pm

Kimbrel will be fine, just has to get his velocity up over the next few weeks as he gets the juices flowing. Then no one will be getting much contact. How did Heyward’s single look?

uggla's forearms

February 26th, 2011
8:53 pm

i’m afraid conrad’s glove won’t come around though haha

ExBraves Fan

February 26th, 2011
9:07 pm

Is it too late to promise Wagner he can have most of NE Georgia if he will return? Gonna be a long season if this crap continues. Yeah, yeah, yeah, first game of the spring. In my 60+ years of watching baseball, crummy springs lead to crummy lost wasted seasons. And losses.

ExBraves Fan

February 26th, 2011
9:10 pm

Brett Favre

February 26th, 2011
9:22 pm

Cheer up, Kimbrel. Just do what I do when I’m feeling low — send pictures of your jimmy to folks on your cell phone.

Billy Wagner

February 26th, 2011
9:24 pm

Has my dumbass agent not filed those papers yet? People, sorry, I am done! Move on!

Craig Kimbrel's location

February 26th, 2011
9:31 pm

Has anybody seen me lately? I’ve been missing since early Sept. last year.

Sarah Palin

February 26th, 2011
9:35 pm

I look great naked.

Brett Favre

February 26th, 2011
9:37 pm

Hey Sarah, wanna see my Danny Woodhead?

Greg

February 26th, 2011
10:12 pm

Good to see Brooks Conrad is already in mid-season form!

Jawbreaker

February 26th, 2011
10:17 pm

Get Wagner back. Make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Bud Wiser

February 26th, 2011
10:28 pm

Another error by Conrad.

Sound familiar?

Kathy

February 26th, 2011
10:30 pm

Brett Favre, Sarah Palin, Billy Wagner, and Craig Kimbrel’s location: amateur night at the Chuckle Hut was last week, sorry you missed it. Don’t quit your day jobs (if you have one).

Freddie Freeman looked GREAT today, 3 doubles, and surprising speed for such a big guy. Good to see JJ with a solid first outing, hopefully that helps his confidence, and he can stay healthy. I’m really looking forward to this season, and seeing the Braves here again 2 more times this spring!

klaus

February 26th, 2011
10:57 pm

Just remember as ST wears on the pitchers get better. Early hits are great but they are easier to come by in Feb versus mid to late March.

Kimbrel looked bad lets see how he looks in 2 weeks.

JD

February 26th, 2011
11:14 pm

@romedawg – agreed, but I’m hoping it was more about lack of focus than anything else with Kimbrel today.

Gotta admit Brett Favre is making me laugh – Danny Woodhead?

wjones

February 26th, 2011
11:15 pm

“ExBraves Fan

February 26th, 2011
9:07 pm
Is it too late to promise Wagner he can have most of NE Georgia if he will return? Gonna be a long season if this crap continues. Yeah, yeah, yeah, first game of the spring. In my 60+ years of watching baseball, crummy springs lead to crummy lost wasted seasons. And losses.”

Mr. Experience, FYI the Braves had a losing record the Spring before they won the World Series.

BTW, if you are really an Ex Braves Fan, why are you on the blog, or even paying attention? It might be time to be honest with yourself.

JHey's Better

February 26th, 2011
11:45 pm

Why are people losing their minds over one spring training game yeah Kimbrel gave up a homer and walked some guys its THE FIRST GAME OF SPRING TRAINING not the NL Championship game 7 to go to the Series. You know you can tell who actually watches and knows something about BASEBALL in general and who just rides the wagon until they lose 5 staight in May

old timer

February 27th, 2011
6:37 am

I don’t see Conrad making the team. We can’t go thru that again. I know he had some big hits off the bench, but overall he is a below average hitter and, man, I really don’t like guys I can outplay at second base.

Brooks sux

February 27th, 2011
6:44 am

Since I was at the playoff game last year and personally saw all the errors and the fan reaction to Brooks the error Conrad I don’t think he should be on this team if u can’t field routine ground balls and u r the second baseman u don’t belong in MLB he is now a head case like knoblauch cut him loose immediately

Fan since 1977

February 27th, 2011
10:23 am

Old timer –

Conrad is making the team because he is a great switch hitting stick off the bench and he can hit in the clutch. He is not supposed to play the field, much less start. I disagree he is a below average hitter. Like Hinske, if forced to play every day, he would be. Like Hinske, off the bench he is fantastic. It’s not his fault Prado got hurt last September. If he has the yips in the field now I can’t think of a better guy to bring him around than Fredi. Get off the kid’s back.

The Ghost of Harry the Hat

February 27th, 2011
10:24 am

hey ex brave fan, why don’t you go find a mets blog.

Fan since 1977

February 27th, 2011
10:25 am

JHey’s Better –

Thank you for the badly needed dose of reality.

Joshua

February 27th, 2011
12:44 pm

It’s pretty obvious to me that Brooks Conrad is all done playing in the field – he has a mental block and it doesn’t appear he will ever recover. That being said, no matter how effective he is in the clutch at the plate, we cannot afford a roster spot for a guy who CANNOT play in the field under any circumstances.

MitchC

February 27th, 2011
3:32 pm

Dave, if Gonzalez uses Brooks Conrad too often this year, this team could lead the league in errors. Simply, the guy can’t field a lick. Didn’t his performance in the NLDS last October show the Braves anything about him?

I think that using Kimbrel and Venters as a left-right closer tandem is a good idea. Maybe we can use a left-right closer tandem with success. We did that a couple of years ago with Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.

Paul X. Nguyen

February 27th, 2011
4:05 pm

Can’t the teams play any added innings beyond 10 in sprinbg training? That’ll make it most memorable!
We don’t wanna have games ending in ties no more.

ramblingman

February 28th, 2011
12:33 pm

“Can’t the teams play any added innings beyond 10 in sprinbg training? That’ll make it most memorable! We don’t wanna have games ending in ties no more.”

Yeah, we’ll have a couple of pitchers blow out their arms and end their careers throwing too many pitches in the first game, but it’ll be worth it, because it will be memorable and people like you “don’t wanna have games ending in ties no more.”

tfallin

February 28th, 2011
1:05 pm

Just would like to know what is going on with the TV schedule of the Braves game for South Ga. Who can help all I see on the schedule for braves.com is MLBTV online.

phil

February 28th, 2011
1:51 pm

No one is losing their mind. Kimbrel can’t pitch because he can’t throw strikes. Get rid of him NOW and move on….

Kurt

February 28th, 2011
4:17 pm

What do Brooks Conrad and Michael Jackson have in common????? They both wear a glove on their left hand for no apparent reason.

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