Atlanta catcher Gerald Laird, left, congratulates reliever Craig Kimbrel on a recent save. One more save and Kimbrel will own the Atlanta franchise record for saves. (Reuters)
Atlanta Braves’ closer Craig Kimbrel needs one save to break John Smoltz’s franchise career record, and the chances of him doing it at home improved greatly when Kimbrel was held out of Sunday’s series finale because he had pitched in each of the previous three games.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t want to risk overuse by having Kimbrel pitch four consecutive games.
That means Kimbrel, who matched Smoltz’s career record with his 154th save in Saturday’s win against the Marlins, has two potential chances to set the record this week at Turner Field before the Braves go back out on the road. They have a mini two-game series tonight and Wednesday against Seattle between off days in the schedule Monday and Thursday.
If Kimbrel doesn’t get the record this week, chances are it would happen on the road: The Braves start a seven-game trip to Arizona and Colorado on Friday with the first of three against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix.
On May 18, Kimbrel became the young pitcher in major league history to record his 150th save when he did it at 25 years, 355 days. In his past 15 appearances, he’s allowed one run, six hits and seven walks with 24 strikeouts in 14 innings.
In 76 appearances since May 9, Kimbrel has a 0.97 ERA with 114 strikeouts and a .154 opponents’ average in 74 innings. He has allowed 40 hits, eight earned runs, one homer and 26 walks in that span.
Smoltz’s stint as Braves closer began late in the 2001 season and extended through ‘04. During that span, he converted 154 of 169 save opportunities. Kimbrel has been successful with all but 17 of his 171 save opportunities.
Kimbrel is positioned to have many more opportunities and possibly one day approach the records set by Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and many of the game’s other legendary closers.
Eric Gagne (91.7) and Smoltz (91.1) are the only pitchers in Major League history to record at least 150 saves with a save percentage better than Kimbrel (90.1).
“It is nice to say I’m a part of something like that, but then again, I’ve had a lot of opportunities,” Kimbrel said. “I’ve played on some good ball teams the first three or four years. If it wasn’t for that case, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this now. I’m honored to even have the opportunity and the chance. Hopefully we’ll have a lot more opportunities and we win a lot more ballgames.”