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.

Clayton Kershaw struggles with control, walks six Marlins

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Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw entered Wednesday night’s start against the Marlins without having issued a walk in his previous three starts. In fact, his last walk came on April 3 when he issued a free pass to Paul Goldschmidt with the bases empty and two outs in the bottom of the first inning. All told, Kershaw was on a streak of 26 walk-less innings before he took the mound at home to take on the Marlins.

Kershaw started off Wednesday in character, striking out the side in the first inning. He issued a walk in a tough second inning, but escaped without allowing a run. Kershaw walked two more in the third and again danced out of danger. In the fourth, Kershaw walked Lewis Brinson to load the bases with no outs and — you guessed it — didn’t end up allowing a run. His errant control finally came back to bite him in the fifth when Kershaw issued back-to-back two-out walks, then served up a three-run home run to Miguel Rojas down the left field line. His night was done when he completed the inning. Five innings, three runs, five hits, six walks, seven strikeouts, 112 pitches.

The six walks Kershaw issued over five innings marked his first six-walk outing since April 7, 2010 when he issued six free passes to the Pirates in 4 2/3 innings. The only other time he walked as many was on August 3, 2009 against the Brewers in a four-plus inning outing. Kershaw hasn’t even walked five batters in an outing recently — the last time was September 23, 2012 against the Reds.