From the moment Fredi Gonzalez was named Braves manager, he said he'd bring in right-hander Craig Kimbrel and left-hander Jonny Venters to close games depending on the hitters due up: left-handers or right-handers.
But that isn't what happened in the very first closing opportunity, on Opening Day against the Nationals with a 2-0 lead. Venters pitched the eighth and Kimbrel the ninth despite the matchups and neither one allowed a hit, much less a run.
Just as noteworthy for Kimbrel, he didn't allow a walk, which was often his downfall as he went back and forth from Class AAA Gwinnett (Lawrenceville, Ga.) to the Braves last season. But the crucible of the postseason series against the Giants, where Kimbrel emerged for sure as closer material, worked its magic.
After the opener, Gonzalez said he had, indeed, intended to stick to the left-right matchup if possible, but at the last minute, as he and pitching coach Roger McDowell were kicking the idea around in the dugout, McDowell, said they should let the kid try.
So Kimbrel got his clean ninth inning.
Who knows, maybe that's what Gonzalez and McDowell always intended, but maybe they didn't want to put more pressure on the 22-year-old Kimbrel by naming him the closer in spring training. More than likely, though, Gonzalez meant what he said originally.
In any case, Gonzalez intends to use Kimbrel carefully, so look for Venters to close if Kimbrel has pitched on consecutive days. Or even right-hander Peter Moylan, for that matter, now that his velocity is reaching the mid-90s again.
No closer was necessary in Sunday's 11-2 win over the Nationals.
Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.