Braves notes: Closers Venters, Kimbrel round into form

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez reiterated Friday that he planned to open the season with Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters sharing the closer's role.

The two relievers looked to be in lockstep against the Mets as well, each pitching scoreless innings. They both faced a little strife and recovered -- Venters from his first real jam of spring training and Kimbrel from a one-out double.

“It’s good to see those guys pitch out of those situations,” Gonzalez said.

For Venters, it was a chance to right himself on the fly, after throwing seven consecutive balls to start the seventh inning. He gave up a leadoff walk and a single -- having previously allowed only one hit and one walk in his first seven innings of spring training, all scoreless.

“I went back to my normal thing, said ‘Just screw it, throw as hard as I can,’” Venters said. “When I start to think a lot out there is when I get in trouble. I’ve just got to go out there and make guys hit my stuff.”

For Kimbrel, who struck out the last two batters he faced, it was an indication that he was rounding into shape. After giving up three runs in his first three outings, Kimbrel has thrown four consecutive scoreless innings.

“I’m getting closer,” Kimbrel said. “I’m never going to be exactly where I want to be. I feel good. I feel like I’m ready for the season to get here.”

Gonzalez said the benefit of using two closers, especially early in the season, is he can match the left-handed Venters against some of the lefty-dominant lineups in the National League East. And with two young arms, he doesn’t want to make a habit out of throwing either one three and four days in a row.

“In a perfect world you’d like to name one guy, but I can’t sit here and say May 15 is going to be the day or June 20,” Gonzalez said. “Maybe we’ll go the whole way. It’s not a bad thing. It really isn’t.”

For their part, both Venters and Kimbrel are comfortable with the plan, and both are prepared to take the ball.

“Craig’s got a crazy arm, and I expect he’ll be running out there for the ninth most times,” Venters said. “But if they stick me in there, I’m comfortable with it, I feel good about it. I feel like I have a good mentality for it. I like to go right at guys and see what happens.”

Jurrjens still looking for speed

Jair Jurrjens still isn't satisfied with his velocity, but he was pleased with his sharpness, especially early in his six-inning outing against the Mets.

Jurrjens got six ground-ball outs from the first six batters he faced, evidence that his work to command the lower half of the strike zone is paying off.

"The sinker was moving a little bit better," said Jurrjens, who gave up a two-run homer to David Wright in the sixth, but only one run otherwise. "That's what I've been working on, trying to hit the low strike zone, just trying to make them hit the ball on the ground."

Jurrjens’ fastball regularly hit 89 mph on the Mets' radar gun, topping at 90, which is a few ticks under his usual 92-93 mph.

Part of that, Jurrjens thinks, has to do with getting a late start on his bullpen sessions this winter coming off arthroscopic knee surgery. Jurrjens also said his shoulder was a little stiff Friday from lifting weights -- but nothing at all like the pain and stiffness he felt early last spring.

Pitching competition

The competition for fifth starter resumes Saturday when Brandon Beachy pitches against the Tigers in a split-squad game in Lakeland while Mike Minor will start a minor league game at the Braves camp at Disney. The veteran insurance policy Rodrigo Lopez will start the split-squad game against the Mets at Disney.

Kimbrel is scheduled to pitch again Saturday at Disney for his first back-to-back action of spring. He'll be joined by Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill. Following Beachy in Lakeland will be Peter Moylan and Scott Proctor.