Craig Kimbrel confident he can close for Braves next season

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Craig Kimbrel turned some heads during the NLDS against the Giants in October and now that Billy Wagner has retired, the 22-year-old right-hander is ready to compete with Jonny Venters for the closer role during spring training.

Kimbrel told Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he is confident he can handle closing duties in 2011, but is open to whatever role new Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez has in mind for him.

“There was never really a point last year where I didn’t think I could do it,” Kimbrel said. “I can’t go on the mound and think ‘I can’t do it,’ because then I’ll be in a losing situation.”

“I’m looking at it like it doesn’t matter what role I have, if I’m in the big leagues I’m happy,” he said. “But if I just go out there and focus more on pitching well, good things will happen.”

Kimbrel, a former 2007 third-round pick, dominated his way up the organizational ladder by posting a 1.85 ERA over 121 minor league relief appearances, averaging 14.4 K/9. He turned in a miniscule 0.40 ERA and 40 strikeouts over 20 2/3 innings with the Braves during the regular season in 2010. While he has electric stuff, he also averaged 5.7 BB/9 in the minors and issued 16 walks during his brief time with the Braves last season.

Carlos Marmol has proven that closers can be very successful without elite control, but it obviously takes a pretty special one in order to do it. This isn’t to say that Kimbrel can’t be that guy, but Venters is a pretty nice safety net.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 15, Brewers 2: What a bloodbath. As we noted yesterday, the Nats hit a lot of homers here. Five in the third inning alone, eight in all. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman each hit two of them, with the former going 3-for-5 with four driven in and the latter going 2-for-5 with three RBI. Max Scherzer didn’t need all that run support — he allowed one run over six innings, striking out nine — but he’ll take it.

Indians 2, Angels 1: A lower scoring affair. Trevor Bauer pitched his best game of the season, allowing one run over eight, scattering seven hits and striking out six. Carlos Santana homered for the first Indians run, Francisco Lindor singled in the second. That’s seven straight wins for Cleveland. They’ve needed every one of them as second place Kansas City has won eight in a row.

Blue Jays 8, Athletics 4: We talked about the ump show in this one yesterday. Later it was the Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce show, with Morales hitting a solo homer in the ninth to tie it and Pearce hitting a grand slam in the tenth inning to give Toronto their second walkoff win in as many days. It was the first Blue Jays walkoff grand slam in nine years — Greg Zaun did it then — but the second walkoff grand slam in baseball this week, as Edwin Encarnacion did it on Tuesday.

Yankees 6, Rays 5: Brett Gardner was the catalyst and hero late in this one. He hit a triple in the ninth and then scored on a weird play in which the Rays infielders — Adeiny Hechavarria and Tim Beckham — let a grounder go through because they were shifted and didn’t know whose responsibility it was. Then in the 11th Gardner hit a walkoff homer for the win. The celebration was so intense Aaron Judge broke a tooth. Biggest hit he’s had in a while. That’s four wins in a row for the Yankees who are a half game behind Boston.

Marlins 4, Reds 1:  Chris O’Grady pitched seven scoreless innings for Miami as third baseman Derek Dietrich did most of the damage on offense. He homered, walked in a run and singled in a run. The Marlins have won five of seven, the Reds have lost seven of eight. This happened before the game:

I could find no followup suggesting that it was a real problem. I assume, however, that this will happen soon:

Cubs 6, White Sox 3: Kyle Schwarber has stunk up the joint all year, but maybe he’s coming around. Here he homered twice and drove in four runs as he Cubs won their third in a row and are now 11-2 since the All-Star break. Anthony Rizzo went deep too and Jon Lester allowed two runs and four hits in seven innings.

Diamondbacks 4, Cardinals 0Zack Godley — 65% of all pitchers in baseball are now named Zack, by the way — tossed seven shutout innings striking out seven and the relievers took it the rest of the way. J.D. Martinez continues to swing a hot bat since his acquisition by the Dbacks, hitting a fourth inning grand slam for all of the game’s scoring. He’s only 5-for-20 since the deal, but four of those five hits have been homers and he’s driven in 11 in his six games in the NL.

Padres 7, Mets 5Manuel Margot hit a homer, double and a single, driving in three and Dusty Coleman hit a three-run homer. There are not a lot of Manuel Margots in baseball, but about 65% of Impressionist painters had that name. About 47% of cowboys were named Dusty Coleman.

Francisco Rodriguez is being sued by his former landlord

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John Wisely of the Detroit Free Press reports that current free agent reliever Francisco Rodriguez is being sued by his former landlord for damage to the rented property as well as missing artwork. The landlord is asking for $80,000 after having kept Rodriguez’s $15,000 security deposit.

The lawsuit says that Rodriguez damaged a bedroom TV, a crystal floor lamp, glass shelves in the bar, glass tiles in the master bath, and a Moroccan mirror in the powder room. Additionally, the suit claims that the bedding is stained and paint has chipped, as well as other damages. And the piece of art that is allegedly missing, which depicts a tiger, is valued at more than $10,000.

Rodriguez has not yet been served with the suit, but the landlord has been speaking to his managers.

The Nationals released Rodriguez, 35, two weeks ago after having signed him to a minor league contract in late June. He started the season with the Tigers, but struggled to a 7.82 ERA over 25 1/3 innings before being released.