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.

Astros officially announce the Michael Brantley signing

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The Astros officially announced their signing of outfielder Michael Brantley to a two-year, $32 million deal.

Brantley, 31, played a mostly full season last year for the first time since 2015. He hit .309/.364/.468 with 17 home runs, 76 RBI, 89 runs scored, and 12 stolen bases in 631 plate appearances. He made the AL All-Star squad for the third time in his career.

As previously reported, the Astros plan to rotate Brantley between left field, first base, and DH.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Brantley.