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Kimbrel hopes unusual shakiness subsides

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- To prepare Craig Kimbrel for the World Baseball Classic, the Braves scheduled him to appear in four of their first nine games of the Grapefruit League season. They did not envision that their dominant closer would allow at least one run in two of those first three appearances.

But as Kimbrel prepares to leave for the Classic on Sunday, he and the Braves can only hope that things improve. Kimbrel's most recent shaky outing came on Thursday, when he allowed two runs -- one earned -- in a 10-5 loss to the Phillies at Bright House Field.

"When the fastball is up, they get hit," Kimbrel said. "That's what happened today."

Kimbrel allowed Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard to open the fifth inning with a long opposite-field home run over the wall in left-center. He then walked Michael Young before watching first baseman Ernesto Mejia drop Tyler Pastornicky's throw on a double-play attempt. The error prolonged the inning long enough for Domonic Brown to score on a groundout.

"You just want to see these guys keep getting better and sharper as the spring progresses," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think even though we want to see those zeros up there, in Spring Training we're not going to see that."

Fortunately, Kimbrel has not felt any soreness or any sort of fatigue in his arm. His command simply has not been where he will want it to be when the regular season begins on April 1.

Kimbrel issued a pair of walks in his spring debut, and allowed two hits and a run in Monday's win over the Marlins. He allowed one hit over eight scoreless innings in Grapefruit League action last year.

Before leaving to join Team USA in Arizona next week, he will make one more appearance for the Braves, either on Saturday or Sunday.

"From my first outing to now, what happened on the field, it doesn't look like I've gotten further along," Kimbrel said. "But the way I feel and the way I feel about my pitch selection, I feel [they] are better. I'm not all over the place like I was the first outing. It's just a process. That's why we're down here, to get things worked out and get ready for the season."