In the lofty air where Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is dwelling these days, it’s not all serious business. It’s pretty fun too.
That’s why when catcher Brian McCann apologized to Kimbrel after Wednesday’s game for letting a wild pitch get past him, Kimbrel just smiled and said “I didn’t mind.”
He was kidding around, of course, but because that batter, Donovan Solano, reached base on a third strike, Kimbrel was able to strike out four batters in the inning. It’s something only three other Atlanta Braves pitchers have ever done: Mark Wohlers (1995), Paul Assenmacher (1989) and Phil Niekro (1977).
“It was pretty cool,” Kimbrel said.
Kimbrel said he has struck out four in an inning before in the minor leagues, and thinks he probably struck out as many as five in an inning at Lee High School in Huntsville, Ala.
“I was throwing the ball all over the plate in high school,” said Kimbrel, who is reminded of that all the time by his former high school catcher and buddy Chris Jennings.
Kimbrel said Jennings, who still catches him in the offseason, likes to kid Kimbrel that he injured Jennings’ thumb multiple times in high school. Kimbrel said he takes his buddy a glove or a catcher’s mitt every winter as payback.
What’s amazing now is that Kimbrel is making major league hitters look as helpless as those high school hitters probably felt. Entering Thursday night he was averaging 16.56 strikeouts per nine innings, something no major league pitcher with 60 or more innings have ever done.
Kimbrel joined John Smoltz as only the second Brave to record 40 or more saves in consecutive seasons. Kimbrel had a rookie-record 46 saves last season and reached 40 on Wednesday night. Smoltz did it three times, with 55, 45 and 44 saves from 2002-2004 respectively.
“It means we’re winning games,” Kimbrel said. “We’ve played in close games and I’ve been lucky enough to go out there and be successful in those opportunities this year.”