BOSTON -- David Ross was behind the plate for 14 of the games Eric Gagne pitched during his record-breaking 2003 season. The current Braves backup catcher also counts Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner among the elite closers he has caught.
In the midst of his second full season as a Major League closer, Craig Kimbrel certainly has not earned the right to be placed in the same elite category as these aforementioned pitchers. But Ross does not believe it is unfair to make some comparisons.
"He's the fastest ever to 200 strikeouts in terms of innings in the history of the game, so it's not unfair to compare him to anybody," Ross said. "Do I think he has reached that status yet? No. He's getting by with his stuff now. It's like with many other young players. Bryce Harper is doing what he's doing strictly on talent. When he learns the league and learns how to play at this level, it's going to be a joke. It's the same thing with Craig."
Showing no ill effects from the save opportunity he blew in a must-win situation during last year's regular season finale, Kimbrel has posted a 1.33 ERA and limited opponents to a .214 on-base percentage while securing a National League-best 21 saves. The 24-year-old right-hander has been simply dominant since suffering his only blown save of the season and allowing a run in each of the three appearances he made from April 29-May 4.
Kimbrel has allowed three hits, issued two walks and struck out 25 of the 54 batters he has faced while not allowing a run in his past 16 appearances. The fact that he has issued just two walks during this 16-inning stretch is impressive. But the dominance of this stretch is better understood when it is pointed out both walks were issued in the same game.
"If he has his stuff, it's just lights out," Ross said. "If he has his stuff and is throwing strikes, you're not going to hit him."
Kimbrel learned of his first All-Star selection a couple hours after the Braves had played their final game before the All-Star break last year. This year, he will likely be one of the first relievers placed on the NL roster.