Veteran southpaw Billy Wagner posted a superb 1.43 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over 71 appearances for the Braves last season, saving 37 games and striking out 104 batters in 69.1 innings. He was ridiculously good, but he wanted to go out on top and called it quits as soon as the year was over.
Most teams would struggle with that kind of loss, but the Braves are rolling right along.
David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke this week with 22-year-old Craig Kimbrel, who is expected to battle 25-year-old Jonny Venters for the Braves’ ninth inning gig this spring. (For what it’s worth, O’Brien thinks Kimbrel is going to win it.)
“I’m ready to get things rolling,” Kimbrel said during Braves pitching camp at Turner Field on Tuesday. “It’s going to be a fun year. I’m just going to come in, get ready to pitch on the mound. Whatever role it’s in, I’ll be ready for it.”
Kimbrel, a righty, struck out 40 batters in just 20.2 innings last season during a short but impressive debut for the Braves. Venters, a lefty, also finished with great numbers — like a 1.95 ERA and 93/39 K/BB ratio.
Relievers are generally overrated, or at least over-discussed. After all, it’s hard to have much of an impact on a 162-game schedule when your contribution spans something like 50-60 innings. But the Braves are undoubtedly loving the fact that they have two cost-effective fireballers around to handle tight situations.
The story of Rick Ankiel is well known by now. He was a phenom pitcher who burst onto the scene with the Cardinals in 1999 and into the 2000 season as one of the top young talents in the game. Then, in the 2000 playoffs, he melted down. He got the yips. Whatever you want to call it, he lost the ability to throw strikes and his pitching career was soon over. He came back, however, against all odds, and remade his career as a solid outfielder.
It’s inspirational and incredible. But there is a lot more to the story that we’ve ever known. We will soon, however, as Ankiel is coming out with a book. Today he took to the airwaves and shared some about it. Including some amazing stuff:
On drinking in his first start after the famous meltdown in Game One of the 2000 National League division series against the Braves:
“Before that game…I’m scared to death. I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. (I had never drank before a game before). It was one of those things like the yipps, the monster, the disease…it didn’t fight fair so I felt like I wasn’t going to fight fair either.”
Imagine spending your whole life getting to the pinnacle of your career. Then imagine it immediately disintegrating. And then imagine having to go out and do it again in front of millions. It’s almost impossible for anyone to contemplate and, as such, it’s hard to judge almost anything Ankiel did in response to that when he was 21 years-old. That Ankiel got through that and made a career for himself is absolutely amazing. It’s a testament to his drive and determination.
A couple of weeks ago our president wrote one of his more . . . vexing tweets. He was talking about immigration when he whipped out the phrase . . . “Easy D”:
No one was quite sure what he meant by Easy D. Was it the older brother of N.W.A.’s founder? The third sequel to that Emma Stone movie from a few years back? So many questions!
Baseball Twitter had fun with it, though, with a lot of people wondering how they could work it in casually to their commentary:
It wasn’t a scout who did it, but twelve days after that, a player obliged Mr. McCullough:
I have no more idea what Turner was talking about with that than Trump was. We’ll have to wait for the full story in the L.A. Times. But I am going to assume Turner was doing McCullough a solid with that one rather than commenting on the president’s tweet. Either way, I’m glad he made the effort.
And before you ask: yes, it’s a slow news day.