MIAMI -- After spending nearly three months proving to be virtually unhittable, Craig Kimbrel has been humbled by some recent outings. But even after watching him surrender home runs in losses on both Sunday and Monday, the Braves remain confident in their rookie closer.
"He's fine," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Just a couple pitches."
Because the Braves were already trailing by one run when Kimbrel allowed his ninth-inning homer to Mets outfielder Lucas Duda on Sunday, the initial reaction was simply surprise. The hard-throwing closer had surrendered just one homer in his 94 previous innings.
When Kimbrel blew a save opportunity by allowing Omar Infante's two-out, two-run walk-off home run Tuesday night, there was a sense of shock and dismay for the Braves, who saw the 6-5 loss drop their lead over the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card race to 2 1/2 games.
Kimbrel had not allowed a run in 37 2/3 innings before allowing two ninth-inning runs and blowing a save opportunity against the Cardinals on Sept. 9. The 23-year-old rookie closer has now allowed five earned runs over his past six appearances.
Kimbrel ranks second in the Majors with 77 appearances and seventh with 75 1/3 innings. Jose Valverde, John Axford and Carlos Marmol are the only other Major League relievers with at least 20 save opportunities who have recorded at least 70 appearances.
While Kimbrel might be feeling fatigue as he nears the end of his first full Major League season, he did not show any Saturday, when he needed just 16 pitches to record three strikeouts in a perfect inning against the Mets.