ATLANTA -- Closer Craig Kimbrel's scoreless ninth inning -- featuring four strikeouts -- in the Braves' 3-0 victory Wednesday secured his 40th save of the season. Combined with his 46 saves last year, Kimbrel became the second Braves pitcher to save at least 40 games in back-to-back years. John Smoltz accomplished the feat three straight seasons from 2002-04.
Kimbrel has been dominant all season, earning his second trip to the All-Star Game in as many years, but has been especially locked in during September. Since blowing a save Aug. 31 against the Phillies, Kimbrel has not allowed a run in 11 appearances spanning 11 1/3 innings. He has struck out 23 batters and allowed just two walks and six hits.
Kimbrel said he has been pitching with an edge for the last month.
"I feel like you have to pitch with confidence," Kimbrel said. "You can't go out there and throw a pitch [and say], 'Man, I hope he doesn't hit this.' You have to go out there and pitch like, 'I'm going to go out there and pitch, and if I make my pitch, it's going to be successful.'"
In just his second season, Kimbrel has become known as one of the best closers in the Major Leagues, and has had his name invoked in conversations about the National League Cy Young Award. Kimbrel is tied with Cardinals closer Jason Motte for the most saves in the league. The Braves hurler has struck out 111 batters in 60 1/3 innings.
Kimbrel is on the verge of becoming the first pitcher to throw at least 60 innings and average more than 16 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. His opponents' batting average of.126 is also on pace to break the Major League record of .133, set by Eric Gagne in 2003.
Kimbrel said with the playoffs beginning in about a week, he isn't worried about individual awards.
"It's something I never thought I would be mentioned in," Kimbrel said. "Right now, I'm not thinking about it. I'm thinking about helping this team win and getting into the postseason and going deep into the postseason."
Last year, Kimbrel was named NL Rookie of the Year and got two fifth-place Cy Young votes, good for a ninth-place finish. Left-hander Tom Glavine was the last Brave to win the award, taking home the honor for the second time in his career in 1998.
Perez, Braves coaches give walk-off ball to Fredi
ATLANTA -- As the Braves' bullpen coach, Eddie Perez has become adept at chasing down important home run balls. With the help of the security guards and ushers in the outfield at Turner Field, Perez has secured the baseballs from important milestones, especially those off the bat of third baseman Chipper Jones.
So when Freddie Freeman's walk-off, two-run home run to beat the Marlins and clinch a playoff spot disappeared over the center-field wall and into the batter's eye Tuesday night, the ball eventually found its way into Perez's hands.
He knew just what to do with it.
"When I got the ball, I thought of Fredi [Gonzalez]," Perez said.
Perez had clubhouse manager Chris Van Zant tell the manager he was looking for him. Gonzalez came into his office expecting to hear bad news.
Once Gonzalez was in his office, Perez let him know there was nothing to worry about.
"I went and got the ball," Perez told Gonzalez. "This is for you, and the coaches want to give this to you."
Gonzalez said he first thought of giving the ball to Freeman, but Perez told him he deserved to have it to commemorate his first playoff appearance.
"For me, that was big that they would think of giving that ball to me," Gonzalez said. "That really touched me."
The ball now rests in a case on the credenza behind Gonzalez's desk. He said he will always cherish it.
"It will sit in my office, wherever I'm at, forever," Gonzalez said. "Because it's your first chance to manage a game in the postseason."
MRI shows no tear, just thumb sprain for Bourn
ATLANTA -- Michael Bourn does not want to set a specific day for when he expects to return to the Braves' lineup. But the All-Star outfielder has been encouraged with the improvement of his sore left thumb.
Bourn had an MRI exam on his thumb Thursday afternoon, and the Braves announced that it revealed no ligament tear, just a slight sprain. Bourn remains day to day.
Bourn did not rule out the possibility of returning to the lineup as early as Friday. He has missed four straight games because of the thumb ailment he incurred while sliding head first into second base during Saturday's win over the Phillies.
"Once the swelling has gone out of it, it has felt better," Bourn said. "They just did not want me to rush back out there and have any setbacks."
Bourn said the fact the Braves have clinched the top National League Wild Card spot has not influenced the decision to allow him to rest his thumb a few extra days. He said he is still holding out hope his team can catch the Nationals in the NL East. Atlanta trails Washington by four games with six to play.
"It's starting to feel better," Bourn said. "So hopefully in the next couple of days, I'll be ready to go."