ATLANTA -- Braves closer Craig Kimbrel joined one of the franchise's all-time greats with Saturday night's scoreless ninth inning, matching John Smoltz as the only Atlanta pitchers to record 30 saves in three different seasons.
Kimbrel was quick to put the accomplishment in perspective ahead of his team's Sunday series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals,a potential playoff opponent, having already closed out a pair of hard-fought victories in back-to-back days to clinch a series win.
"Like I say every Spring Training, I'm not going into a season saying I want to get a certain number of saves or a certain number of opportunities," Kimbrel said. "When I get those opportunities, I want to take advantage of them. We could be a winning ballclub but not have many save opportunities, or we could not win a lot of ballgames and have a lot of close games."
Kimbrel has converted 20 consecutive save opportunities since his last blown save on May 7, striking out 41 batters in 26 innings. He has allowed just one hit and three walks since his last earned run allowed, which broke a tie game against the Marlins on July 4. His raw numbers have dropped only slightly from the Herculean totals he posted in 2012, but he did enough in the first four months of 2013 to earn his third consecutive All-Star selection and help the Braves build the largest division lead in baseball.
"The way I look at last year, I was going out there and doing my job," Kimbrel said. "I had some pretty numbers to go along with it, strikeouts, not very many walks, not very many baserunners, but the bottom line is obviously just being able to go out there and get the save."
Kimbrel was in high school when Smoltz was reinventing himself as one of the best closers in the game, racking up 144 saves between 2002-04 and posting three of the franchise's top four single-season save totals.
"How many closers throw five pitches?" Kimbrel said of Smoltz. "It was almost unfair for him to be closing because obviously as a hitter, they eliminate pitches late in the game. The guy's got five pitches, they really can't do that."
Both players accomplished the feat in three consecutive years, and they can now lay claim to half of the franchise's 30-save seasons in franchise history. While Kimbrel does not boast that five-pitch repertoire, he can more realistically aspire to the regular appearances in the postseason that Smoltz's success out of the bullpen helped inspire.
"It means we're playing a lot of close games and we're winning a lot of close games," Kimbrel said. "It shows that I've been able to have those opportunities over the last three years, which just means that we're winning a lot of ballgames."
Beachy's trying rehab coming to an end
ATLANTA -- In his past few rehab starts, Brandon Beachy found the form of the consistent top-end starting pitcher he had always aimed to recapture, even during the most trying stretches of the long recovery process typical of Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. With that final corner turned, the right-hander will get the ball on Monday night against the Rockies for his first start since June 16, 2012.
"Obviously, it's going to be a little faster here than it has been in Triple-A, but there was definitely a moment where things started slowing down, and I just felt in control no matter what the count, what the situation," Beachy said.
Beachy, who suffered a setback in mid-June just days before his initially scheduled return, posted a 2.50 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 18 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett after getting back on the mound July 9.
"I feel good now, and I've felt good ever since I started up again from that little shut-down period," Beachy said.
The Braves flew Beachy back to Atlanta on Saturday for one final side session that let manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell know he was ready to return to the rotation. With right-hander Tim Hudson lost for the season after suffering a gruesome ankle injury on Wednesday, Beachy's return is timely.
"He's ready," Gonzalez said of Beachy. "I talked to him this afternoon when he came in, and he felt great. Nothing from the bullpen yesterday, so we're going to give him the nod tomorrow."
At the time of his surgery last season, Beachy was tied for the Major League ERA lead and was holding opponents to the lowest batting average among qualifying starters. Less than 24 hours away from its long-awaited end, he was able to reflect on the toll the recovery process took on his patience.
"Months one through seven seemed like three years, especially once the season ended," Beachy said. "All offseason everyone goes home and does their thing, and I'm still here hanging out with [team physical therapist Lloyd van Pamelen] four days a week. Every one of those days felt like a full 24 hours at least."
Gonzalez said that Beachy would likely be held to around 100 pitches, but the right-hander was not letting a pitch count burden his mind leading up to his first Major League action in nearly 14 months.
"I'm going to go out there and take the ball, and I'm going to pitch until they take it from me," Beachy said.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.