SAN FRANCISCO -- There may have been eyebrows raised when the Braves submitted a National League Division Series roster that included five rookie relievers. But while making their postseason debuts in Thursday night's Game 1 loss to the Giants, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel provided reason to believe they can take the heat of the playoffs.
Venters' first pitch of his postseason career resulted in a double play that ended the sixth inning after the Giants had put runners at runners at the corners with one out against Derek Lowe. The southpaw then recorded two strikeouts in a perfect seventh.
Kimbrel, who spent most of this season with Triple-A Gwinnett, entered the eighth inning with a runner on first and nobody out. Aubrey Huff was thrown out attempting to steal second before the hard-throwing reliever ended the inning by getting Buster Posey to look at a called third strike.
"You have to have confidence in them, and that's the name of the game," manager Bobby Cox said. "I've got patience and I've got confidence, both. So they did a whale of a job -- ever since they've been up, they've done a great job. We've been in a pressure cooker just about all season. It's not easy to come up and perform to their capabilities all the time, but these guys basically have."
Kimbrel didn't allow an earned run in the 11 1/3 innings he worked after joining Atlanta's roster when Gwinnett's season concluded. In the process, the 22-year-old reliever recorded 23 strikeouts, issued just five walks and limited opponents to a .108 batting average.
"He's showing us over the past month and a half that he can accept a late-inning role -- whether it be closer, setup guy -- moving into the future," catcher Brian McCann said.
With Billy Wagner still seemingly planning to retire at the end of this season, Kimbrel and Venters stand as the top candidates to serve as Atlanta's closer in 2011.