Braves’ bullpen in good hands with Kimbrel, Venters

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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.

Red Sox to extend protective netting at Fenway Park in 2018

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The Red Sox are the latest team to extend the protective netting at their ballpark this winter. According to a statement by club president Sam Kennedy, the exact dimensions of the netting have yet to be determined, but it will likely stretch “all the way to Field Box 79, down the left field line and then all the way down to almost Canvas Alley in the Field Box 9 area.”

Fenway Park received additional protective netting prior to the 2016 season, when the netting behind home plate was lengthened to the home and visitor dugouts. Per Kennedy’s statement, the current expansion should cover everything but the outfield corners, making it nearly impossible for a line drive foul to reach fans in the lower boxes.

After a toddler sustained serious injuries from a 105-MPH foul ball to the face at Yankee Stadium last September, over half of all MLB teams decided to take more extreme preventative measures in advance of the 2018 season. The Brewers, Cardinals, Braves, Astros, Royals, Pirates, Rangers, Padres, Nationals, Mariners, Phillies, Mets, Reds, Blue Jays, Giants, Yankees, Twins and Indians are among the organizations to address the issue over the last several years, while others have yet to take significant action.