KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was almost unhittable in 2012. He has bigger plans this season.
He got off to a great start on Monday when with a hole-in-one at the tough ChampionsGate Golf Club. Kimbrel lost sight of the ball on the 180-yard second hole, and figured it fell into a greenside bunker. He looked everywhere except the hole.
"I couldn't believe it," Kimbrel said. "I think it went in on the fly. It was my first one."
Kimbrel got a break after the round when he was made aware that it was up to anyone shooting an ace to buy a round of drinks for everyone."
"It was a charity event," Kimbrel laughed. "There was an open bar. I paid for it all."
The shot was cool, but Kimbrel has even better reasons to be in a good mood.
He had a terrific 2012 season, striking out more than half of the batters he faced during the regular season. No one had ever done that in baseball history. Kimbrel said he knew he was close to the record as the season wound down. He captured the record by striking out the final three batters he faced in the regular season finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It was a nice follow-up to Kimbrel's 2011 performance when he was named the National League rookie of the year. He pitched in 79 games that season, posting 46 saves, then followed it up last season with 53 saves in 63 games while putting up a 1.01 earned run average.
Despite the workload, Kimbrel said he didn't think it was any big deal.
"I only pitched in 63 games or something," Kimbrel said. "I could have pitched in more, but the bullpen is so deep. Those 63 games were nothing."
With the addition of former Angels all-star Jordan Walden, he might have a smaller workload this season. Atlanta has one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said that, just getting the ball to the sixth inning makes things a lot easier with the depth in the bullpen.
"If we get the game to the sixth inning, it is almost over," Gonzalez said. "With Walden, I think we have the best bullpen in baseball to get to the closer. Kimbrel doesn't need to worry about more than one inning with these guys. Kimbrel's number will be up there in a few years."
Gonzalez was referring to the announcement that former star Chipper Jones was having his number retired later this season and the speculation over whom would be next. With former Braves stars like John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux, Kimbrel has a ways to go, but he's only 24, and he said he has plenty of innings left in his arm.
"I could have done more last season and I feel great now," said Kimbrel, who will be pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. "I can go one inning whenever. Everything is going great."
On and off the golf course.