Braves' closer role still unsettled

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ATLANTA --- The one-week countdown to the start of Braves spring training found Craig Kimbrell and Jonny Venters doing what they do best: throwing hard.

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Kimbrell   Associated Press
Associated Press
Kimbrell

Kimbrell, a 22-year-old right-hander, and Venters, a 25-year-old left-hander, are the favorites to take the closer's role left vacant with Billy Wagner's retirement.

One week before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, Kimbrell and Venters were showing off their fastballs at the Braves' early pitcher's camp at Turner Field on Monday.

New manager Fredi Gonzalez said Kimbrell and Venters might share save situations this season. Some believe Kimbrell might win the job after he averaged two strikeouts per inning in 2010.

Kimbrell was 4-0 with a 0.44 ERA and one save in his only opportunity last season. He had 40 strikeouts in 20w innings.

Even Venters said Kimbrell pitched like a closer.

"I think Craig is probably the front-runner for that job," Venters said Monday. "He's got a great arm and strikes out a bunch of guys."

Kimbrell said he wasn't trying to audition for the 2011 closer's role last season.

"I didn't see it like that at all," he said. "I saw it as going out there and just pitching to help the team win. It didn't matter if it was in the sixth inning or in the 12th inning, I was going to give it my all."

Kimbrell and Venters insisted they would be happy in any role.

When asked whether he sees himself as the closer, Kimbrell acknowledged, "I hope so. There's a lot of guys working for that job this year. No job is set in stone."

Of the two, Kimbrell had a shorter stay with Atlanta last season. He stuck after his second promotion and appeared in only 21 games.

Venters was called up April 17 and never went back to the minors. The left-hander assumed an increasingly more important role and finished 4-4 with one save and a 1.95 ERA in 79 games.

If Gonzalez has a favorite for the closer's role, he's not saying. He hinted each could be used to finish games.



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