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Tag:Johnny Venters
Posted on: May 20, 2011 4:25 pm

Kimbrel not in danger of losing closer's job


By Evan Brunell

It's not easy being a closer, as rookie Craig Kimbrel is finding out.

The flamethrower has blown four of his last 11 saves including Thursday night, when he gave up four consecutive singles, scoring two Arizona runs for a walkoff. With Jonny Venters pitching superb in a setup role, the heat is racheting up on Kimbrel.

Skipper Fredi Gonzalez refused to consider removing Kimbrel from the role, however.

“The kid [Kimbrel] gets that groundball and he’s out of the inning,” Gonzalez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, referring to a grounder Kimbrel induced and deflected on a potential inning-ending double play that Dan Uggla could not get to after the ball switched paths. Kimbrel would later blame himself after the game for not being able to make a play on the ball, as well as delivering too many hittable pitches even though two of the four singles did not leave the infield.

Gonzalez said that bullpen coach Eddie Perez says Kimbrel warms up too fast in the bullpen when it's not entirely clear when Kimbrel will enter the game.

“Eddie said he’s got to relax, pace himself,” Gonzalez added. “That’s a learning thing.  He's learning, experiencing."

Kimbrel hasn't really demanded a removal from the closer's role despite his recent struggles. He's punched out an incredible 34 batters in 21 innings, working around 10 walks and 17 hits with a 3.00 ERA. He's exactly what any manager would want as a closer. Gonzalez is lucky, then, that he has Venters as well, who is outperforming Kimbrel to date.

Venters has a minuscule 0.68 ERA while leading all pitchers with 25 appearances, pitching 26 1/3 innings while punching out 26 and walking just seven, while not allowing a home run on the season, something Kimbrel also can boast. But the lefty also has induced an impressive 85.4 percent of balls to hit the ground.

That impressive duo at the end of the bullpen has allowed Atlanta to keep pace in the NL East, where it is in third place with a 25-21 record, 2.5 games out of first place.

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Posted on: April 2, 2011 4:13 pm

Sticking to tradition, Kimbrel wins closer role

By Evan Brunell

KimbrelOn opening day, the Braves led the Nationals 2-0 heading into the eighth inning. With three right-handers slated to come up followed by two lefties with a righty sandwiched in between, it seemed obvious that Craig Kimbrel would handle the eighth with Johnny Venters closing the door in the ninth.

Except the exact opposite happened, leaving many wondering what had happened to the two-headed closer combination Atlanta was planning on using.

Fredi Gonzalez clarified the situation Saturday, leaving no doubt that Kimbrel is the closer of record without outright saying it.

“Talking to Roger [McDowell] on the way to the game [Thursday], he said, ‘Let’s just go with Kimbrel,’” Gonzalez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We decided, let’s give the kid a chance. For me, they both have good stuff and can get guys out from both sides.”

Kimbrel was long considered the favorite to emerge as closer, so this is no surprise. While any team would love to have Venters at the end of the game, the Braves seem to really have something special in Kimbrel, who whiffed a staggering 40 batters last season in just 20 2/3 innings. However, the 22-year-old won't be the full-time closer as Gonzalez plans to work Venters into some tight games.

“If we get in a situation where we’ve used Kimbrel a couple of games in a row -- I don’t foresee using either of those guys more than two days in a row, first thing in April,” Gonzalez said. “So hopefully you get today and tomorrow [against the Nationals] with Kimbrel, say, then give Johnny Milwaukee [on Monday] and give Kimbrel a day [to rest].”

Gonzalez said he does not believe in relievers being used more than two days in a row in April, especially younger guys. That opens the door for Venters to be the junior member of the co-closer role, although it would not be surprising to see Kimbrel morph into a more traditional closer as the season wears on.

It's tough to blame Gonzalez for going with Kimbrel, but it continues to be unfortunate how many teams continue to hem themselves into a closer. There is no other statistic in baseball that created such a seismic shift in the game than saves. Closers as we know them today are solely because of the save statistic that was created, not necessarily because it's the right way to deploy relievers. Atlanta seemed to have a prime opportunity to bust the closer mold, especially with two elite, young relievers pitching with opposite hands that could be deployed in more strategic situations.

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Posted on: February 7, 2011 5:20 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2011 5:21 pm

Braves, Rays pinning hopes on closer by committee

KimCould the closer by committee be making a comeback?

Everyone remembers the last time a team attempted a closer by committee, to the scorn of many fans and pundits. And indeed, the attempt failed miserably by Boston back in 2003, necessitating a trade for the Diamondbacks' Byung-Hyun Kim (pictured) in May.

The problem back then was that the personnel wasn't right for Boston and the public tide of opinion was against having a closer by committee even as Boston's true intention was to deploy a closer, just as a relief ace instead. After all, don't you want your best relief pitcher pitching in the most important part of the game if it's earlier than the ninth? Jonathan Papelbon can make a bigger difference getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth than nailing down three outs in the ninth on a three-run lead.

Indeed, Boston would later sign Keith Foulke to close and deploy him as a relief ace in the 2004 run to the World Series. The Red Sox also developed Daniel Bard, who functioned as a relief ace in 2010. Skipper Terry Francona has talked often about how he loves having Bard to deploy where the team needs, not where the label of closer dictates.

But since Boston's aborted 2003 effort, closers by committees have existed only in lieu of a closer that has gotten injured.

But the concept may come roaring back in 2011, as two teams appear to be readying for a closer by committee.

The Rays have had to completely revamp their bullpen, and one byproduct of this is no clear-cut closer. Kyle Farnsworth is probably the pitcher with the best shot at emerging as closer given his longevity and pedigree. But even his closer's record is spotty as he has just 27 career saves (the most on the Rays, with J.P. Howell second at 20). Farnsworth, however, has only one save since 2006. Howell or rookie lefty Jake McGee seem likely to emerge as long-term closer, but for now, Tampa doesn't have much of a choice.

"We have some really good candidates," skipper Joe Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times. "Some good arms, some guys I don't really know that well that we've got to check out and see what they're capable of doing."

But even Maddon -- the king of innovation these days in baseball, sounded skeptical of the closer-by-committee approach.

"I have to prepare myself mentally for that because it's really different," Maddon said. "To have the one guy at the end of the game allows you to do certain things to get to the ninth innings whereas when you don't, there's different things you have to consider all the time. So it's quite a mental exercise."

Another team following in Tampa's footsteps are the Braves, who may split closer duties between Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. New manager Fredi Gonzalez pointed to the Mike Gonzalez/Rafael Soriano arrangement the Braves went through in 2009 as an example for Kimbrel and Venters.

However, while both duos share a similar handedness split (Gonzalez and Venters as lefties, Soriano and Kimbrel righties), the 2009 comparison leaves out one important distinction: the Gonzalez/Soriano tandem was over by the All-Star Break. In the first half, Gonzalez nailed down nine saves, Soriano 12. But after the first half, Gonzalez got just one save while Soriano would go on to notch 15. Granted, the same thing could happen again in Atlanta if a clear-cut closer emerges for Gonzalez.

Closers are increasingly being marginalized as teams are no longer willing to pay exorbitant amounts in free agency. Even Rafael Soriano got less than he was hoping for, and despite his massive three-year, $36 million commitment, is no more outrageous than Joaquin Benoit's three-year, $18.5 million deal. Along with the pullback in closer salaries is coming increased understanding of the volatility of closers. Perhaps one day, relief aces will supplant closers. Until then, however, each closer-by-committee situation figures to be hotly monitored and debated. How Atlanta and Tampa approach and fare in this regard will impact the future of bullpen philosophy, just like teams re-entrenched themselves with closers after Boston's failed gambit.

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb  on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: January 14, 2011 4:25 pm

Top five bullpens in baseball

With the signing of Rafael Soriano, the Yankees are poised to have one of the best bullpens in the game.

But who is No. 1? And for that matter, who are the top five bullpens in the game?

Glad you asked.

Bell1. SAN DIEGO Padres
Closer: Heath Bell
Setup: Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams
Others: Joe Thatcher (L), Dustin Moseley, Ernesto Frieri, Chad Qualls

Why: The Padres dumped Adam Russell, Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb but still have the best bullpen in the business. Heath Bell is one of the best closers in the game while Gregerson and Adams would close for many clubs. Thatcher may not total many innings (35 in 65 games) but it's hard to find a better situational reliever.

Closer: Mariano Rivera
Setup: Rafael Soriano
Others: Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Pedro Feliciano (L), Damaso Marte (L)

Why: Soriano and Rivera will form one of the best one-two punches to close out a game (although every other team on this list can make a similar claim), but the real strength comes in depth. Chamberlain isn't the same pitcher he once was, but still has talent while Robertson could one day close. Feliciano isn't a top-end left-hander, but is a durable workhorse that should rack up plenty of appearances.

Feliz3. TEXAS Rangers

Closer: Neftali Feliz
Setup: Alexi Ogando, Frank Francisco
Others: Darren Oliver (L), Arthur Rhodes (L), Mark Lowe

Why: It's easy to overlook this bullpen because it's full of aging left-handers (two of them!) and players that have toiled in relative obscurity, but Feliz led all closers in saves as a rookie, Ogando threw up a 1.30 ERA and Francisco is a former closer -- who could close for many clubs.

Bailey4. OAKLAND Athletics
Closer: Andrew Bailey
Setup: Grant Balfour, Brad Ziegler
Others: Joey Devine, Michael Wuertz, Craig Breslow (L)

Why: A late-season injury kept Bailey under 50 innings pitched, but not before the reigning Rookie of the Year winner announced his arrival among the elite of closers. Grant Balfour vaults the A's onto the top five list and will pair with the submariner Ziegler. They lack a top left-handed option, but the returning Devine (Tommy John surgery) and slider specialist in Wuertz will give batters fits.

Kimbrel5. ATLANTA Braves

Closer: Craig Kimbrel (pictured) or Johnny Venters (L)
Setup: Venters/Kimbrel
Others: Scott Linebrink, Peter Moylan, Scott Proctor, George Sherrill (L)

Why: Kimbrel and Venters are simply very filthy pitchers. Kimbrel, in 20 2/3 innings, struck out a staggering 40 batters (although that came with 16 walks) and is the favorite to close. He'll be rivaled by Venters, who hurled 83 innings in his rookie year, punching out 93. It's not every day a club has two relievers capable of punching out over 10 batters per nine. The middle relief corps is fairly weak, but Linebrink should eat innings and and Moylan is a quality arm.

You may notice that the Red Sox were left off the list -- if this was a top six list (hint: it's not), Boston would have ranked sixth. Jonathan Papelbon will be set up by the dangerous Daniel Bard, and the additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler should deepen the club. However, Papelbon's volatility and lack of a top-end left-handed reliever hurt. You could make a case that the Braves belong sixth given the lack of experience in the closer and setup roles. Boston does beat Atlanta in middle relief, but a closer and setup men is more important to your bullpen.

-- Evan Brunell

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Posted on: September 27, 2010 9:52 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2010 9:55 pm

Venters says fatigue is not a problem

Johnny Venters Johnny Venters has been one of the most heavily-relied upon relievers since his promotion on April 17, but fatigue hasn't set in for the rookie left-hander.

Venters fended off questions after seeing his ERA rise from 0.92 on August 12 to 1.90, posting a 3.80 ERA in between. He coughed up three walks in 1 1/3 innings on Saturday and Sunday, prompting questions that he may be fading down the stretch just like the Braves are.

"Physically, I feel fine," said Venters, who has thrown 80 innings and whiffed 88 while walking 38. Only one reliever ahead of him has logged more innings since April 17, that being Colorado's Matt Belisle with 83 innings -- but Belisle has a 2.88 ERA as compared to Venters' 1.80.

“[Sunday] and a couple of other times I’ve been out there thinking about my mechanics instead of making a quality pitch," Venters said about what is responsible for his stumbles. "That’s never good."

When fatigue sets in, mechanics are usually the first to go. It sounds like as if Venters may, in fact, be suffering from fatigue if he has to focus on getting his mechanics in line.

However, with the Braves fighting for a postseason spot, the club has no choice but to keep handing Venters the ball.

-- Evan Brunell

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Category: MLB
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