LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Craig Kimbrel hasn't caused the Braves to push the panic button yet. But if the hard-throwing right-hander's struggles continue over the next week or two, the club will be forced to reassess exactly how they will handle the closer's role.
Kimbrel bounced back from a rough exhibition season debut with a scoreless inning against the Red Sox on Wednesday. But the 23-year-old right-hander struggled with his command again on Friday and paid the price as the Nationals tagged him for two runs and three hits in just one inning.
"If there is a trend like this later in the spring, then you start worrying about it," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But not right now."
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This is obviously the kind of response expected from Gonzalez during the first week of March. But the Braves certainly didn't expect to see Kimbrel allow four runs and six hits in the 2 1/3 innings over three appearances.
Two of the three strikeouts tallied by Kimbrel during the exhibition season's first week were recorded Friday. In other words, he doesn't have the same form he displayed while notching 30 strikeouts in the last 15 2/3 innings (postseason included) he pitched in 2010.
"Some of these guys are going out there with only one pitch and still haven't been able to get the secondary pitch over," Gonzalez said.
Kimbrel has struggled with his curveball, and like many power pitchers, he seems to be having some trouble with his fastball during the early portion of Spring Training. But this didn't seem to be a problem last year, when he went through his first Grapefruit League season by allowing just three hits over nine scoreless innings.
With Kimbrel struggling early, the Braves can be encouraged that Jonny Venters, their other candidate for the closer's role, has allowed just one hit and worked three scoreless innings in the early portion of the exhibition season.