With the Atlanta Braves watching the 2011 postseason from home, Fredi Gonzalez can do all the thinking in the world about what he may or may not have done differently during the season to prevent their September collapse. Gonzalez seems torn about his heavy use of rookies Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel.
Though Braves fans are undoubtedly still reeling from the Braves' 13-inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies last Wednesday, when Kimbrel blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning, Gonzalez believes they may not have been in the situation in the first place had he not used Venters and Kimbrel so much during the early stages of the season.
"If we don't use those guys I don't know if [we get] 89 wins, if we get to the situation we were in [Wednesday night]," Gonzalez said.
This came, however, with the Braves winning 81 games entering September.
Although the rookie combo did not see nearly the workload in September that they had previously, Venters still led the majors with 85 relief appearances, followed by Kimbrel with 79.
Kimbrel made the third most appearances in major league history by a closer who saved at least 40 games. Billy Koch made 84 appearances while recording 44 saves for the 2002 A's, and Rod Beck notched 51 saves while making 81 appearances for the 1998 Cubs. Kimbrel also set the major league rookie record for saves with 46.
And it is not like other relievers also did not see a hefty work load. Eric O'Flaherty put together one of the most impressive years by a reliever in history by posting a 0.98 ERA in 78 appearances. Scott Linebrink also made 64 appearances, and left-handed specialist George Sherrill made 51 appearances, though he only threw 36 innings.
Still, Venters does not attribute the duo's poor September performance to fatigue. In Venters' first 72 appearances, he held opponents to a .157 batting average with an ERA of 1.31. In his 13 September outings, however, his ERA soared to 5.11.
"[Fatigue] doesn't have anything to do with anything at all," Venters said. "The only reason the workload was where it was is because we played so many close games. We were in a lot of ballgames. Once you get to September that stuff doesn't matter. You get your second wind."
Kimbrel had also thrown 37 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings before blowing a save on Sept. 9 in a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. He would proceed to allow seven hits and six walks as well as six runs over his final 7 1/3 innings.
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