The season hasn't started well for the Atlanta Braves. Before they even got to Opening Day, they'd lost two of their starters (Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy) to Tommy John surgery. Again. They've had a below-average record with pitchers over the last few years, largely the entire Fredi Gonzalez era and looking at his usage patterns reinforces that correlation.
For Craig Kimbrel, any arm problem comes with additional worries. With arms like Jonny Venters and Cory Gearrin on the shelf, the bullpen is getting a bit thin in front of the closer. Jordan Walden had one nice season in Anaheim, but the rest? Well, they're "guys" in baseball parlance. Hard throwers who have a chance, but are unlikely to be top relievers in any context.
Kimbrel's injury isn't serious, explained here by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien, but sometimes serious injuries start out that way. So far, sources tell me it's a mild strain akin to "dead arm," but Kimbrel has had some issues throughout the spring. That points to a minor strain or impingement that's being aggravated and re-aggravated by pitching. At worst, Kimbrel will have to be used more judiciously, but there's little evidence that Gonzalez knows how to do that well.
The Braves would be smart to come up with some "rules" about his usage, but those will have to be informed by how situations make him feel. Kimbrel may be fine with back-to-back games, but perhaps three days in a row would be too much. If so, none of those. There are various other scenarios, but they'll have to be tested, and unfortunately, that's very difficult to do at the major league level.
Kimbrel is unlikely to go to the DL given the current issues, but if soreness comes back this week, the Braves might make the conservative choice to push him to the DL now rather than wait and make the situation worse.
If Kimbrel misses any length of time, Walden will get the saves, but the whole bullpen would likely implode if it got to that point. Kimbrel will play catch and take treatment over the next few days. Without an off-day this week, Kimbrel and the pen won't catch a day to chain, so he could be back as soon as Thursday. The longer he's off right now, the better, but it will again be tough to do that.