Craig Kimbrel's the guy. That was the message from veteran third baseman Chipper Jones and manager Fredi Gonzalez alike after the rookie right-handed closer lost Saturday's game to the Cardinals, 3-2, after blowing the save the night before.
Gonzalez compared Kimbrel's 33 major league appearances over the last two seasons to 60 at-bats for a rookie position player.
Jones, who is unsurpassed in his ability to put all things baseball in perspective, assessed the situation.
"It's a kid learning how to get through good lineups in the big leagues. It's tough," Jones said. "There's a learning curve, because, you know, when he first came up, nobody could hit his fastball. Now people are adjusting. Now he's got to incorporate a breaking ball into his repertoire. He's doing it.
"But, not only that, he has to learn where he can and can't throw those pitches. And that, for a kid as young as him, is an adjustment."
Noting the fastball Kimbrel threw to the Cardinals' left fielder Matt Holliday, leading off the ninth, Jones said, "You cannot throw a fastball low and away to Matt Holliday. That's his spot. I've seen him rifle balls down and away at 95 miles an hour off the right-field wall and over the right-field wall his whole career. If he throws that ball at the belt or above, he gets an out.
"If you could sit there and put a little earpiece in his ear, you could tell him those things. But you can't. And you've got to let him go through that. A different location on that pitch changes the whole outlook of the entire inning."
Both Jones and Gonzalez agreed that these losses are worth the investment in Kimbrel's development as a closer. In other words, better now than in October.
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