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Kimbrel joins elite company with 50th save

ATLANTA -- Craig Kimbrel joined an exclusive group on Friday night when he became the 10th different Major League pitcher to record 50 saves in a season. John Smoltz is the only other pitcher who accomplished the feat while playing for the Braves.

"It definitely does mean a lot," Kimbrel said. "It's something that doesn't come around every year. Even if you do have a good pitching year, you might not be able to do something that special."

Kimbrel's 139 career saves rank as the second-highest total recorded by a Major League closer 25 years old or younger. Francisco Rodriguez notched 146 saves before his 26th birthday.

While Kimbrel has not been as utterly dominant as he was last year when he became the only big league pitcher to ever strike out more than half the batters he faced, he has still produced some eye-opening numbers on the way to notching his Major League-leading 50 saves.

Kimbrel entered Saturday leading all National League relievers in ERA (1.23). He ranked second in strikeouts per batter faced with a 38.6 percent rate and third in both opponents' batting average (.165) and opponents' on-base percentage (.240).

"He doesn't panic," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think that comes from being out there three-plus years."

Kimbrel's 90.3 career save percentage ranks third among all big league pitchers who have had at least 150 save opportunities. The only pitchers with better marks are Eric Gagne (91.7) and Smoltz (91.1), a pair of former closers who before Friday had accounted for the only 50-save seasons recorded by an NL pitcher since 2000.

"I put the bar at the highest limit for me," Kimbrel said. "I want to go out there and be perfect each and every time. I know that is not realistic. But I'm still going to get myself prepared, work hard and try to get to that point."

Kimbrel's 1.23 ERA ranks as the second-lowest mark ever recorded by closer during a 50-save season. Gagne posted a 1.20 ERA when he notched 55 saves for the Dodgers in 2003.

The .165 opponents' batting average Kimbrel has surrendered matches Trevor Hoffman for the second-best best mark recorded during a 50-save season. Gagne surrendered a .133 batting average in 2003.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for Eric Single is an associate reporter for
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