09/21/11 12:26 AM ET
Braves not concerned about Kimbrel's issues
Despite uncharacteristic struggles, reliever still instills confidence
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
"He's fine," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Just a couple pitches."
Because the Braves were already trailing by one run when Kimbrel allowed his ninth-inning homer to Mets outfielder Lucas Duda on Sunday, the initial reaction was simply surprise. The hard-throwing closer had surrendered just one homer in his 94 previous innings.
When Kimbrel blew a save opportunity by allowing Omar Infante's two-out, two-run walk-off home run Tuesday night, there was a sense of shock and dismay for the Braves, who saw the 6-5 loss drop their lead over the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card race to 2 1/2 games.
Kimbrel had not allowed a run in 37 2/3 innings before allowing two ninth-inning runs and blowing a save opportunity against the Cardinals on Sept. 9. The 23-year-old rookie closer has now allowed five earned runs over his past six appearances.
Kimbrel ranks second in the Majors with 77 appearances and seventh with 75 1/3 innings. Jose Valverde, John Axford and Carlos Marmol are the only other Major League relievers with at least 20 save opportunities who have recorded at least 70 appearances.
While Kimbrel might be feeling fatigue as he nears the end of his first full Major League season, he did not show any Saturday, when he needed just 16 pitches to record three strikeouts in a perfect inning against the Mets.
Hinske attempts to rally troops with Mohawk
MIAMI -- Eric Hinske returned to the visitors' clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium late Tuesday afternoon sporting a Mohawk that made him look one of the NFL's bruising fullbacks.
"That's the coolest cut on the team," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. "I can't pull that off. He's got the tats and he's huge. He's got that whole [tough guy] look going."
This is the first time Hinske has worn a Mohawk since he and a number of his Rays teammates donned them late in the 2008 season, which concluded with a run to the World Series. Because he has always kept his head cleanly shaven, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will not be following the lead of Rays manager Joe Maddon, who also donned a Mohawk after his players started wearing them three years ago.
But Braves hitting coach Larry Parrish has agreed to change to a Mohawk if the team wins five games in a row before the end of the season.
Uggla, Craig Kimbrel and Arodys Vizcaino are among the Braves who have spent time this year wearing a fauxhawk, which gives the look of a Mohawk without having to shave the sides of their heads.
Prado getting his mojo back at right time
MIAMI -- This has been a rough season for Martin Prado. But as the regular season winds down, the left fielder feels he has regained his aggressive offensive approach just in time to help the Braves when they need him most.
"I was kind of lost for a little while, but now I'm like, 'I'm going to see the ball and just swing at it,'" Prado said.
Prado talked about regaining his aggressive approach a few hours before recording a three-hit game in Tuesday night's 4-0 win over the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium. He has batted .324 (11-for-34) while hitting safely in each of his past eight games.
"He's looking good," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who recently moved Prado back to the second spot of his lineup.
Prado said he lost his aggressive approach while battling to regain confidence after missing more than a month with a staph infection he incurred during the first week of June.
"After I got back from the staph, I was trying to get good pitches and taking good pitches," Prado said. "I wasn't aggressive at all, and I wasn't swinging at the pitches I used to swing at. I was too selective."
If the Braves and Cardinals are leading the National League Wild Card race with identical records at the end of this season, a one-game tiebreaker will be played in St. Louis to determine which team qualifies for the playoffs. This is based on the Cardinals having won the season series, 5-1, against the Braves.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.