LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – It was the first day of Braves full-squad workouts, which meant live batting practice on the backfields at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Braves hitters facing — mostly struggling against – Braves pitchers including the game’s most dominant closer, Craig Kimbrel.
Melvin Upton Jr. looked at almost every Kimbrel pitch without swinging, not an uncommon approach when facing Kimbrel on Day 1. Meanwhile, Braves newcomer Jonny Gomes swung at some Kimbrel offerings and missed a few, including one that appeared to be a … changeup? From Kimbrel? The guy with high-90s fastball and devastating slider?
“Chris Johnson (another in the group that faced Kimbrel) told me he threw a couple of change-ups,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was watching pitchers on another field when Kimbrel threw. “He’s probably just playing with it. Add a third pitch if he has to. I don’t know how much he’ll use it when the games start.”
He obviously doesn’t have to — Kimbrel has posted a 1.43 ERA with a ridiculous 476 strikeouts in 289 innings in four-plus seasons in the majors, and led or tied for the National League lead in saves in each of his four seasons as a full-time closer. He became the first pitcher in history to strike out at least half of the batters he faced in a full season when he struck out 116 of 231 in 2012.
He doesn’t have to. However, if Kimbrel were to throw even an occasional changeup in a game, planting that seed in the mind of hitters, well, it might seem like cruel and unusual punishment for hitters.