The Braves were already feeling good about entering the month of September with the back of their bullpen better rested than last season. On Wednesday night they saw yet another perk.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez called on closer Craig Kimbrel in the eighth inning of a 1-0 game against the Rockies and he came through with the first four-out save of his career.
Kimbrel struck out Jordan Pacheco with two runners in scoring position, then went back out in the ninth and struck out three of the four batters he faced, while allowing one walk.
“If Fredi asks me to do it, I’m more than willing to do it,” said Kimbrel, who last recorded more than three outs on April 21, 2011 in a blown save against the Dodgers. “At this point in the season, I think anybody on the team is willing to do whatever to get a win because each win is very crucial at this point of the year.”
Through Sept. 5 of last season, Kimbrel had pitched in 68 2/3 innings over 70 games. After Wednesday’s game, Kimbrel was at 50 1/3 innings over 50 games. He pitched in only nine games in the month of August with only three save opportunities. While that meant the Braves weren’t playing many close games, it also meant Kimbrel was fresher for duties like Wednesday’s.
“If he pitches in normal save situations where he gets two, three, four saves a week, it’s hard to do that,” said Gonzalez. “But if it’s there and we have it there on a double-switch or something that we could do it with, we’ll take advantage of that. It all depends on the workload coming into that situation.”
Kimbrel, who threw 25 pitches, drew some laughs Thursday morning when he described what it felt like to sit on the bench while the Braves batted in the bottom of the eighth.
“I saw my name on the scoreboard and I was like, ‘Man, let’s go down there and let me get an at-bat,’” Kimbrel said, who watched the Braves fourth, fifth and six hitters go down. “Then I was like ‘No, c’mon, let’s stay focused.’”
Kimbrel said his teammates didn’t talk to him in the dugout – almost like a pitcher with a no-hitter going – and he had to figure out how to act going back on the field for the ninth from the dugout.
“I found myself not knowing how to come out of the dugout: ‘Do I run out there or do I walk?’” Kimbrel said. “I think I walked halfway and kind of jogged the other half. It’s a little different because I have all the music and adrenaline coming into the game. I just pick up the ball, throw my warm-up pitches and let’s go…..(Wednesday night) was a little different, but once the batter stepped in the box it was exactly the same.”
As a closer, who craves adrenaline, Kimbrel fed off pitching in a jam in the eighth.
“It’s kind of nice to go out there and be put in that pressure situation,” Kimbrel said. “Those are the situations I like to be in, and it was nice.”
An attitude like that is what has got Kimbrel back-to-back trips to the All-Star game. He showed his appreciation to his bullpen mates on Thursday morning, handing out All-Star gnome figurines he ordered from Kansas City. They arrived on Thursday morning, as well as All-Star T-shirts he gave to the rest of the team.
“It’s for getting Craig to the All-Star game,” reliever-turned-starter Kris Medlen explained, while showing his off gnome. “It was pretty much us.”
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons was scheduled to play in the third game of his minor league rehabilitation assignment Thursday night in Lynchburg where he would play either one or two games before rejoining the Braves in New York.
If the Hillcats’ best-of-three playoff series extended to a third game on Friday, Simmons would play in that game too. Otherwise he would fly up to New York on Friday and could return to action shortly thereafter.
Simmons will have played at least three games in three different cities. Because the minor league season ended on Monday, Simmons had to play for Double-A Mississippi Monday in Mobile, in a playoff game Wednesday in Rome with the low-A Braves and Thursday in Lynchburg with the high-A Hillcats.
Simmons went 1-for-4 with a single and a throwing error Wednesday night in Rome, after going 1-for-3 with an infield hit on Monday for Mississippi.
The Braves-Phillies game in Philadelphia on Saturday Sept. 22 has been picked up by FOX, so it will now start at 4:05 p.m. instead of the 7:05 p.m. scheduled time.