It’s only the first week of March, but there are already questions about young fireballer Craig Kimbrel, someone who many expect to be closing games for the Braves this season. Or sharing the job with left-hander Jonny Venters, at the very least.
Kimbrel has made three appearances so far during exhibition action. One good, two bad. After bouncing back from a poor exhibition debut with a scoreless inning against the Red Sox on Wednesday, he gave up two runs on three hits against the Nationals yesterday. All told, he’s given up four runs and six hits over just 2 1/3 innings.
Fredi Gonzalez didn’t see Kimbrel yesterday because he was managing a split-squad team in Lake Buena Vista, but told Mark Bowman of MLB.com he isn’t worried about the young right-hander’s early struggles.
“If there is a trend like this later in the spring, then you start worrying about it,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But not right now.”
Kimbrel, 22, turned heads by posting an impressive 0.40 ERA and 40 strikeouts over 20 2/3 innings at the major league level during the regular season in 2010. While he has electric stuff, he also averaged 5.7 BB/9 in the minor leagues and issued 16 walks during his brief time with the Braves last year.
It might be a little early to jump to conclusions about Kimbrel, but at least Gonzalez doesn’t have to worry about Venters, who has delivered three scoreless innings over his first three Grapefruit League appearances.
It was only a matter of time before Mike Trout courted another all-time record, and on Saturday, he found himself in elite company with his 25th and 26th home runs of the season. He put the Angels on the board with a 429-foot blast in the first inning, depositing an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman into the left field bleachers:
In the third inning, with the Angels up 2-1, Trout returned to tack on another insurance run. He targeted Gausman’s slider for his second solo shot of the evening and cleared the center field fence with a 418-footer to bring his total to 26 home runs on the year.
Trout has mashed at a staggering .339/.471/.596 clip since his return from the disabled list last month, and Saturday’s totals helped mark his sixth consecutive season with at least 25 home runs. That’s a record few have matched before their age-26 season; in fact, only Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson have ever pulled it off.
Assuming he continues to rake in hits and plate appearances over the last six weeks of the regular season — and there’s nothing to indicate that he won’t — Trout is in line to join elite company of a different kind. The 26-year-old entered Saturday’s game with a 206 OPS+ (park-adjusted on-base plus slugging). According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, that means Trout’s hitting at a better clip than the average Major League player by a full 106 percent. Should he finish the year with a 200 OPS+ and 502 plate appearances or better, he’ll be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds obliterated the competition with his 263 OPS+ in 2004.
The Blue Jays acquired right-hander Tom Koehler from the Marlins in exchange for minor league right-hander Osman Gutierrez and cash considerations, the clubs announced Saturday. Koehler is in his sixth year with the Marlins and stands to make $5.75 million in 2017. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2018 and is set to enter free agency by 2019.
The 31-year-old right-hander struggled to a 7.92 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 55 2/3 innings with Miami in 2017. He was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans in late July, where he rebounded with a 1-1 record in seven starts and whittled his ERA down to a 1.67 mark. The Blue Jays have yet to establish Koehler’s role within their organization, but are hoping to see a turnaround from the righty when he breaks back into the big leagues.
Gutierrez, 22, was assigned to Single-A Greensboro on Saturday. He has yet to find his footing in the minors, and exited a 78-inning stint with Single-A Lansing after racking up a career-worst 7.85 ERA and 8.2 SO/9. His lack of control is particularly alarming, with a 6.2 BB/9 that dwarfs the 2.0+ BB/9 of seasons past, but he still has plenty of time to figure out his mechanics before reaching the Show.