Gonzalez reflects on usage of Kimbrel, Venters

Gonzalez reflects on usage of Kimbrel, Venters

ATLANTA -- Now that the season has provided its painful conclusion, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will have no other choice but to evaluate how he handled different situations throughout the year.

Given the fact that closer Craig Kimbrel and top setup man Jonny Venters devolved from dominant to shaky down the stretch, he will wonder if he might have used his top two relievers too much through some stretches during the first half of the season.

But whatever he deduces will not erase the pain and frustration that was felt Wednesday night when Kimbrel blew a one-run ninth-inning lead in what became a 4-3, 13-inning loss to the Phillies. The Braves needed to win to keep their season alive.

"At the end of the day, there's a lot of stuff that you sit back and evaluate yourself on," Gonzalez said. "And you go, 'You know what? Maybe I could have done this a little different, done that different,'" Gonzalez said.

Still, as Gonzalez evaluates how his club carried 81 wins into September, he may continue to reach the conclusion that he may not have had that win total had he not been forced to utilize Venters and Kimbrel as frequently as he did during the early portion of the season.

"If we don't use those guys I don't know if [we get] 89 wins, if we get to the situation we were in [Wednesday night]," Gonzalez said.

Even with their September workloads reduced as the Braves struggled to gain leads, Atlanta's two All-Star relievers still ended the season with tremendous workloads. Venters led the Majors with 85 appearances and Kimbrel ranked second with 79 appearances.

On the way to notching a rookie-record 46 saves, Kimbrel compiled the third highest appearance total for any Major League pitcher in a season in which he compiled at least 40 saves. Billy Koch made 84 appearances while recording 44 saves for the 2002 A's, and Rod Beck notched 51 saves while making 81 appearances for the 1998 Cubs.

"I just think there were some rough outings down the stretch there where neither of us made any pitches or did the stuff we did early on," Venters said.

Venters posted a 1.31 ERA and limited opponents to a .157 batting average in the 72 appearances he made through the end of August. The hard-throwing left-hander posted a 5.11 ERA and allowed opponents to hit .283 in the 13 appearances he made in September.

Kimbrel had worked 37 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings before blowing a save opportunity in a Sept. 9 loss to the Cardinals. That seemed to turn the tide for the rookie closer, who allowed seven hits and issued six walks while allowing six runs in his last 7 1/3 innings (eight appearances).

"[Fatigue] doesn't have anything to do with anything at all," Venters said. "The only reason the workload was where it was is because we played so many close games. We were in a lot of ballgames. Once you get to September that stuff doesn't matter. You get your second wind.

"I think that's just part of it in September. It's the toughest month of the year. Unfortunately we just couldn't get it done."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.