Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 2/13/12
If you think Craig Kimbrel will be affected by the events of Sept. 28, 2011, dont worry. He has a closers mentality. He lives moment-by-moment, pitch-by-pitch, inch-by-inch, mph-by-mph. What happens one day wont affect tomorrow. Thats the mindset you have to have as a closer, when you pitch on the edge, when one misplaced fastball can result in a win or a save or a loss. Kimbrel realizes what happened in the last game of the season, when he walked three Phillies and gave up a sac fly in the ninth inning of a game the Braves lost 4-3 in 13 innings, is over and done. He cant do anything now to change fate, to give the Braves one last win, to extend the season. The calendar has flipped. Hes not falling back. Hes springing forward. It was an important game, but in my eyes, it was just another game. It was another game where I was trying to do my job, Kimbrel said. All we can do is get ready for this season, and theres nothing we can do about last season. Kimbrel talked about that night as he prepared for his first spring training as the Braves established closer. This time last year, it was thought Kimbrel, who is blessed with a powerful right arm, would split closing duties with the left-handed Jonny Venters. It wasnt sure who would receive the most opportunities for saves. Both had been ultra successful in 2010 Venters for the entire season and Kimbrel in 21 games but the Braves were prepared to platoon them last season. They thought that since one was right-handed and the other was a lefty, theyd be able to play to their strengths and hitters weaknesses. If one wasnt effective, the other would get the ball. Instead, Kimbrel saved Atlantas opening day win against Washington and never relinquished his new job, even when had two blown saves and a loss before April was over. With Kimbrels 100-mph fastball dominating the ninth on his way to 46 saves and becoming the National Leagues Rookie of the Year, Venters became a shutdown eighth-inning specialist. The two teamed with Eric OFlaherty to become one of MLBs best bullpen trios. (Labeled as OVentbrel last season, theyre still working on a nickname, Venters said last week). Kimbrels first season in the majors was a success, but his fastball didnt always go where he wanted and he walked 32 batters in 77 innings. His ability to throw a ball thats often heard, but not seen helped him strikeout 127 hitters and erase his mistakes. Now in his second season, Kimbrel is better armed for a full year in the majors. He insists his arm felt great in the final month of 2011, but he blew three saves and had a 4.76 ERA in September after a remarkable run of 38 consecutive scoreless appearances. He gave up runs in three of his final four games. Now armed with the knowledge of enduring a 162-game season, he paced himself differently this winter. Kimbrel is a veteran now, not a rookie trying to prove himself or trying to win a spot on the staff. Hes pacing himself, not turning heads on the first day of spring training. But he knows, If I go out there and dont produce and do what Im supposed to do, theres no reason I should still have the job. Im not 100 percent full-bore, but Im still coming in trying to win my job, because I know that if I dont do my job, there are plenty of guys in our bullpen who could do the job that Im doing. Kimbrel is working on a changeup like lightning needs something to make it seem faster but isnt sure if or when hell use it. It all depends how refined I can get it and where I can get it before the season starts. Asked again about last years final game, Kimbrels confidence and ability to forget the past comes through. If faced with that situation again, he wants the ball, another shot, as he called it. He wants to do what he couldnt last year. That mindset is part of the job.
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