As Braves’ closer struggles, is Craig Kimbrel physically fine?

April 22, 2014 

Nationals Braves Baseball

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel is dealing with a sore shoulder.

JASON GETZ — AP

ATLANTA – Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel hasn’t been sharp of late. He allowed an earned run while notching his fourth save of the season on April 9, then told the media on April 14 he was nursing a sore shoulder, and had been since spring training.

After a week off, Kimbrel got touched for two runs in a non-save situation on April 19, and had to be bailed out by Jordan Walden.

Kimbrel entered the game Monday against the Miami Marlins with a 2-1 lead, and let that lead slip away.

He walked Jarrod Saltalamacchia to start the inning, and then a catcher’s interference by Evan Gattis put Adeiny Hechavarria on and moved Reed Johnson (Saltalamacchia’s pinch runner) to second base. Pinch hitter Derek Dietrich then doubled in Johnson.

Kimbrel struck out the next three batters, but the game was tied at two. It was his first blown save of the season.

Since April 9, Kimbrel has appeared in five games. He’s earned two saves, but has been touched up for three earned runs in 4 1/3 inning of work. The New York Mets scored a run on him on April 9, the Mets again beat him up for two runs on April 19, and then the Marlins scored once Monday.

Kimbrel will tell you he’s fine. In fact, he said just that after catcher Evan Gattis launched a two-run blast in the bottom of the 10th inning to push the Braves to a 4-2 win over the Marlins.

“I felt great,” said Kimbrel. “Better than I had before my rest, so that’s a good sign.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez echoed his closer’s thoughts, saying the way Kimbrel got out of his ninth-inning jam showed he’s physically fine.

“Those last couple, two or three hitters, is the old Craig Kimbrel,” said Gonzalez. “He’s fine.”

A look back at some recent history tends to agree with Kimbrel and Gonzalez.

Last season between April 24 and May 7—a similar five-appearance stretch to what Kimbrel has struggled through this season—Kimbrel blew three saves and gave up five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings of work. He also gave up three home runs during last year’s rough patch and hitters enjoyed a .364 batting average against him.

But after those five appearances last season where Kimbrel appeared human, he went on to allow just one earned run over the next 46 1/3 innings. He notched 36 saves and posted a 0.19 ERA from May 9 to Sept. 10.

If Kimbrel’s shoulder is medically sound like both he and Gonzalez report, and history is a teller of future performance, this stretch of play where Kimbrel isn’t the Kimbrel of old, may soon come to an end.

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