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.

Video: J.D. Martinez hits league-tying 23rd home run

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox and Mariners left nothing on the table Friday night, going head-to-head in a series opener that eventually ended 14-10 in the Sox’ favor. Led by Steven Wright and Wade LeBlanc — neither of whom made it past the fifth inning — the teams combined for 34 hits and four home runs, including two moonshots from Seattle’s Nelson Cruz and a five-run rally that gave Boston the edge in the seventh.

In the sixth inning, however, the Red Sox were still scrambling to make up a four-run deficit. Left fielder J.D. Martinez cut it in half with one swing, pouncing on an 89.5-mph fastball from Seattle right-hander Nick Vincent and posting it to dead center field for a two-run shot.

The 427-foot blast was Martinez’s 23rd of the season, tying Mike Trout for the most home runs in the league this year. While he still has a ways to go before eclipsing the career-best 45-HR mark he set in 2017, he’s off to a strong start this season: Entering Friday’s game, the 30-year-old slugger was batting .315/.386/.623 with a 1.009 OPS and AL-leading 55 RBI in 308 PA. He finished Friday’s game 4-for-5 with five RBI, just one triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Heading into the All-Star Break, both Martinez and Trout still have some competition for the home run title. Jose Ramirez is sitting at 22 homers, while Nelson Cruz and Khris Davis are tied at 20 apiece.