PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez reiterated Friday that he was planning to open the season with Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters sharing the closer’s role.
The two relievers looked to be in lockstep against the Mets as well, each pitching scoreless innings. They both faced a little strife and recovered – Venters from his first real jam of spring training and Kimbrel from a one-out double.
“It’s good to see those guys pitch out of those situations,” Gonzalez said.
For Venters, it was a chance to right himself on the fly, after throwing seven straight balls to start the seventh inning. He gave up a leadoff walk and a single – having previously allowed only one hit and one walk in his first seven innings of spring training, all scoreless.
“I went back to my normal thing, said ‘Just screw it, throw as hard as I can,’” Venters said. “When I start to think a lot out there is when I get in trouble. I’ve just got to go out there and make guys hit my stuff.”
For Kimbrel, who struck out the last two batters he faced, it was an indication that he’s beginning to round into shape. After giving up three runs in his first three outings, Kimbrel has thrown four straight scoreless innings.
“I’m getting closer,” Kimbrel said. “I’m never going to be exactly where I want to be. I feel good. I feel like I’m ready for the season to get here.”
Gonzalez said the benefit to using two closers, especially early in the season, is he can match the left-handed Venters up against some of the lefty-dominant lineups in the N.L. East. And with two young arms, he doesn’t want to make a habit out of throwing either one three and four days in a row.
“In a perfect world you’d like to name one guy but I can’t sit here and say May 15 is going to be the day or June 20,” Gonzalez said. “Maybe we’ll go the whole way. It’s not a bad thing. It really isn’t.”
For their part, both Venters and Kimbrel are comfortable with the plan, and both are prepared to take the ball.
“Craig’s got a crazy arm and I expect he’ll be running out there for the ninth most times,” Venters said. “But if they stick me in there I’m comfortable with it, I feel good about it. I feel like I have a good mentality for it. I like to go right at guys and see what happens.”