The Brewers made a late-night roster move on Monday, placing reliever Takashi Saito on the 15-day disabled list with the right hamstring strain he suffered during a tough outing in Milwaukee’s home opener on April 4. The team recalled right-hander Brandon Kintzler from Triple-A Nashville to fill Saito’s spot.
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When Braves general manager first described Craig Kimbrel as a right-handed Billy Wagner, it seemed appropriate to simply smile and nod. This young Kimbrel kid had just proven dominant in his first full professional season and he just happened to be getting ready to be introduced to Wagner, who had recently signed with the Braves.
There are countless comparisons made every day in the baseball world and they oftentimes prove comical a few years down the road. When Kelly Johnson was adapting to the second base position, Bobby Cox said something like “he looks like Maz (Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski) out there.” Sparky Anderson once described Barbaro Garbey as another Roberto Clemente.
Well it’s still far to early to say Kimbrel is Wagner’s right-handed equal. But the Braves 22-year-old closer has obviously already proven the comparison won’t be deemed as ridiculous as the two mentioned in the above graph.
Any lingering doubts about Kimbrel should have been erased when he notched four strikeouts in the two perfect innings he tossed in Game 2 of last year’s National League Division Series against the Giants. The kid showed nerves of steel while pitching in enemy territory that night.
In a far less stressful setting in front of Milwaukee’s home opener crowd yesterday afternoon, Kimbrel completed yet another jaw-dropping inning. He needed just 15 pitches to record three strikeouts in a perfect ninth that resulted in his second save of the young season.
Kimbrel opened the first of this year’s two perfect innings by getting Adam LaRoche to end a seven-pitch at-bat with a weak fly ball to left fielder Martin Prado. He has since struck out each of the five batters he’s faced within a span of 26 pitches.
It might not mean a lot to simply say just one of the 33 pitches Kimbrel has thrown this year has been put in play. But I think the sample size is large enough to at least be impressed that just 7.9 percent of the 417 pitches he’s thrown in his career have been put in play.
Cubs closer Carlos Marmol set a record for all Major League pitchers in 2008, when just 12.4 percent of his pitches were put in play.
Because Kimbrel has made just 23 career appearances, it’s still a little too early to anoint him with greatness. But while limiting opponents to a .115 batting average and allowing just one earned run, he’s certainly moving in that direction.
Kimbrel has recorded 17.9 strikeouts per nine innings in his young career. Since being rejoining Atlanta’s roster in September, he has struck out 28 of the 48 batters he’s faced and this doesn’t account for the fact that he struck out seven of the 13 batters he faced in the NLDS.
Marmol set a Major League record for relievers last year when he struck out 15.99 batters per nine innings. Eric Gagne ranks second with the 14.98 mark he posted in 2003. Wagner owns three of the top seven marks — 14.95 in 1999, 14.55 in 1998 and 14.38 in 1997.
With his career now consisting of about a quarter of a third of a normal season, Kimbrel has struck out 47.9 percent of the batters he’s faced. He’s struck out 58.3 percent of the batters he’s faced since rejoining the Braves in September.
Wagner set a Major League record for relievers in 1999 when he struck out 43.4 percent of the hitters he faced. Gagne bettered that mark in 2003, when he retired 44.8 percent of the batters he faced via strikeouts.
Who knows what the future holds for Kimbrel. But the present is telling us it’s at least fair to label him as a “right-handed Billy Wagner.”
Odds and ends: Chipper Jones needs four hits and seven RBIs to join Hall of Famer Eddie Murray as the only Major League switch hitters to record 2500 hits and 1500 RBIs in a career…Earlier this week, I wrote Dan Uggla has now hit his first homer in the second game of four consecutive seasons. While he is a slow starter in Spring Training, Uggla has now totaled two homers in the first four games of two of the past three seasons.
If you haven’t seen the Braves’ funny new commercials, check them out here. I thought the AJC’s David O’Brien was very charitable to allow them to use his car in the spot featuring Jason Heyward.
Tonight’s lineup will be posted later this afternoon.
Here is the Astros lineup for Saturday’s game against the Phillies, who are starting left-hander Cliff Lee:
CF Michael Bourn
SS Angel Sanchez
RF Hunter Pence
LF Carlos Lee
2B Bill Hall
3B Chris Johnson
1B Brett Wallace
C J.R. Towles
P Wandy Rodriguez
Actor Robert Redford said he wanted to film the baseball classic, “The Natural,” at Wrigley Field but couldn’t because the ballpark didn’t have lights at the time. Redford, 74, was at Wrigley on Friday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Cubs’ season opener against the Pirates. The movie, “The Natural,” was released in 1984; Wrigley didn’t get lights until 1988.
Redford did play baseball at Van Nuys High School in Los Angeles, where he was a teammate of Don Drysdale. A pitcher, Redford received a scholarship to the University of Colorado. But he didn’t expect to throw any heat for the first pitch.
“If I throw a ‘smoker,’ my arm’s going to go with it,” Redford said. “I’ll just try to get it over the plate.”
He did, although he did not stand on the mound to throw to Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood. This was the actor’s first trip to Wrigley in about 40 years, he said.
“I feel honored to be here,” he said.
– Carrie Muskat
Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart was healthy enough to be on the roster for the Friday afternoon opener against the D-backs, but not healthy enough to start.
Ty Wigginton, signed as a free agent during the offseason, gets the start at third, and Jose Lopez, acquired in a trade with the Mariners, will start at second.
There had been talk of infield utility man Jonathan Herrera, who had an outstanding spring, (.371, four triples) getting the nod, possibly ahead of Lopez, but that was not to be. Herrera will be a versatile hitter off the bench.
Here’s the lineup:
Dexter Fowler, CF
Seth Smith, RF
Carlos Gonzalez, LF
Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Todd Helton, 1B
Ty Wigginton, 3B
Jose Lopez, 2B
Chris Iannetta, C
Ubaldo Jimenez, P
— Thomas Harding
Kirk Gibson waited until Friday morning to make up his lineup. Here it is:
Bloomquist ss, Johnson 2b, Upton rf, Young cf, Miranda 1b, Mora 3b, Montero c, Parra lf, Kennedy p
Prior to making his Pittsburgh managerial debut with an afternoon affair at Wrigley Field, Clint Hurdle was asked about Opening Days past. He shared two memories with the gathered media, beginning with his first Opening Day as a player:
“It was in Cleveland in front of 70,000 people, followed up by about 12,000 the next day. It was freezing. I don’t even remember how I did. I don’t know if it was 0-for-4 or 1-for-4, but the one nugget of wisdom I got came when I was standing up for the National Anthem. [George] Brett looked me in the eye and said, ‘Let’s get four hits today.’ I was nervous and I was thinking, ‘That’s such a nice thing to say.’ I looked at him and said, ‘OK,’ and he said, ‘I’ll get three, you get one.’ I don’t know if I held up my end of the deal or not. He probably held up his.”
Truth be told, the box score shows that Hurdle went 0-for-4 and Brett finished 1-for-3 in an 8-5 loss to the Indians.
As for Hurdle’s most memorable Opening Day — that came in 2005, when the Rockies scored four times in the ninth to steal a 12-10 win over the Padres. The game was capped by Clint Barmes’ two-out, two-run homer off Trevor Hoffman.
“It was a young club,” Hurdle said. “It was a very exciting day. That would have been one of my favorites.” He then added: “This one is going to be significant. I’m really looking forward to this one. Being a part of the Pirate family, representing the Pirate organization, opening the 2011 season at Wrigley Field, it doesn’t get any better than this.”
– Jenifer Langosch
How did Cubs manager Mike Quade get to work Friday morning? He took the “L” just like other Chicago commuters. Quade is staying downtown, so he hopped on the Red Line, train No. 903, around 7:55 a.m. CT. Nobody recognized him.
“I can’t help but try to get the flavor of the ballpark and the neighborhood, especially on a day like this,” Quade said. “This day will come and go and I’ll still ride trains and do what I do.”
When he got to the ballpark, he called about 15 people to say thanks, beginning with his parents, who are in town for the game. There were coaches and farm directors to call, too.
“I can’t call everybody because if I did, I’d miss the game and maybe tomorrow’s because that’s how much help I’ve gotten,” Quade said. “I have a lot of people to thank.”
When will Quade take a moment? It’ll be during the national anthem.
“That’s the one time I’ll have a chance to let everything go and think about that moment, so I’ve got 2 1/2 minutes to think about all the stuff I’ve talked about so let’s get that out of the way and move on,” he said.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs have officially set their Opening Day roster, selecting the contract of outfielder Reed Johnson on Friday. Johnson was a non-roster invitee this spring. The club’s 40-man roster now stands at 38 players. The 2011 Opening Day roster includes 12 pitchers, two catchers, six infielders and five outfielders.
Here’s the Opening Day lineup vs. Pirates:
– Carrie Muskat
Tim Wallach, debuting as the Dodgers third-base coach, took a one-hopper on the leg off the bat of Jamey Carroll during an eighth inning at-bat. With a runner on second base and two out, Wallach was about 30 feet outside the third-base coach’s box, standing in foul ground on the painted Opening Day logo about 60 feet from home plate.
“I might move back a little,” said Wallach. “I do that to get a better look (with a runner on second).”
When the inning was over, home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom pointed out the coach’s box to Wallach.
“That’s why you’re supposed to be by the box,” Wallach quoted Cederstrom as saying.
Two years ago, Wallach’s predecessor, Larry Bowa, was ejected from a game for arguing with umpires who insisted he stay inside the painted lines of the box. – Ken Gurnick