Two pitchers will share Braves' closer's role

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. --- The Atlanta Braves are finding that former closer, Billy Wagner -- and his 422 career saves -- isn't easy to replace.

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Craig Kimbrel was 4-0 with a 0.44 ERA and struck out 40 in 20-plus innings with the Braves last season.
  Associated Press
Associated Press
Craig Kimbrel was 4-0 with a 0.44 ERA and struck out 40 in 20-plus innings with the Braves last season.

So they won't try to do it with just one person.

Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel will enter the season sharing the closer's role. Manager Fredi Gonzalez isn't concerned about not having a full-time answer for the ninth inning.

"In a perfect world, you'd like to name one guy, but I can't sit here and say May 15 is going to be the day or June 20," he said. "Maybe we'll go the whole way. It's not a bad thing. It really isn't."

Neither the left-handed Venters nor the right-handed Kimbrel started the season in the major leagues, so they don't have much experience. Kimbrel, 22, at least had been a closer in the minor leagues.

That will enable Gonzalez to mix and match, depending on whether left-handed or right-handed hitters are coming up.

"It's a luxury ... that we have two guys that have closer stuff," said general manager Frank Wren.

Both showed great promise last season and the bullpen again appears to be a plus instead of a minus for the Braves with Wagner's retirement.

"Craig's got a crazy arm and I expect he'll be running out there for the ninth most times," Venters said. "But if they stick me in there, I'm comfortable with it. "

Venters, 26, was a starter before joining the bullpen early last season. Appearing in 79 games a year ago, his hard sinker baffled major league hitters as he posted a 1.95 ERA and struck out 93 batters in 83 innings.

He hasn't allowed a run yet this spring and has given up just two hits in his eight one-inning outings.

Kimbrel, who dominated at times last season after coming up for good in the minors, has a fastball that reaches the high 90s and a knee-buckling curveball. He was 4-0 with a 0.44 ERA and struck out 40 in 20w innings with the Braves.


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