KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- If Team USA proves successful in the World Baseball Classic, Craig Kimbrel will likely spend the next three weeks away from his Braves teammates. When he returns, he can only hope to be sharper than he was over the course of this past week.
Kimbrel's early exhibition season struggles continued, as he allowed a run in his third consecutive appearance during Saturday's 6-5 loss to the Astros at Osceola County Stadium. But the dominant closer provided some hope, as he ended the outing with consecutive strikeouts within a span of seven pitches.
"Yeah, I gave up runs, but I kind of figured it out today," Kimbrel said. "I figured out what I needed to and where I am. If I hadn't finished the way I did, I wouldn't feel too good about it. But I do now. It all just clicked and came to me at a pretty good time."
In the process of missing the strike zone with seven of the first eight pitches he threw on Saturday, Kimbrel issued a walk and hit a batter. This set the stage for Brandon Laird (younger brother of Braves catcher Gerald Laird) to send a one-out single to center field. After Jason Jaramillo followed with a walk, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell made a beneficial visit to the mound.
"I guess I went out there and tried to be too fine," Kimbrel said. "I tried to place the ball, and I guess I'm not too good at that. Roger came out and said, 'Quit thinking and just throw the ball.' That's what I did, and it worked out for me."
To prepare himself for the Classic, Kimbrel appeared in four of the first nine exhibition games the Braves have played. In the process of completing four innings within this accelerated schedule, he allowed five hits, recorded three strikeouts and issued five walks. He was charged with one earned run in each of his final three appearances.
While the regular season is still more than four weeks away, these are not the results expected from Kimbrel, who posted a 1.01 ERA and limited opponents to a .186 on-base percentage during the regular season last year. In his 62 2/3 innings, he notched 116 strikeouts and issued 14 walks.
"He's getting his outings in and getting his innings in," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Now, we've got to send him away. I think he's ready. We've done all that we can here to get him ready for those situations. They'll take care of him over there."
Kimbrel will fly to Phoenix early Sunday morning to prepare for the Classic. If Team USA advances past the second round, Kimbrel will not return to Braves camp before March 20.
Medlen has fun with knuckler vs. Astros
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- While playing catch in the outfield, Kris Medlen and Tim Hudson often end their warmup by trading approximately 10 knuckleballs.
"We get it all out of the way and then we just knuckleball each other to death," Medlen said. "It depends who is against the wind. That always makes a difference, and he always asks to be against the wind."
Medlen has no plans to add the knuckleball to his repertoire. But the Braves' right-hander was thrilled when he had the opportunity to throw one after getting ahead of Carlos Pena with an 0-2 count in the third inning of Saturday's 6-5 loss to the Astros at Osceola County Stadium.
"It was up and away, terrible," Medlen said. "But, whatever. I'm working on things, you know. It's not that I'm out there messing around or anything. I was literally trying to throw it for a strike -- and nothing. Having fun, while still getting some stuff done."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez initially thought the 0-2 pitch to Pena simply slipped out of Medlen's hand. But he wasn't surprised when his easy-going pitcher informed him it was, indeed, a knuckleball.
"He pitches like he is in the backyard and he has fun doing it," Gonzalez said.
Other than surrendering a two-out, first-inning home run to Pena, Medlen had some fun while completing three innings against the Astros. He retired the final seven batters he faced, registered two strikeouts and overcame offensively-friendly windy conditions with the help of six ground-ball outs.
"I wasn't getting squeezed at all," Medlen said. "But I threw some pretty good pitches down in the zone and didn't get the call. That's what you're trying to do, throw the ball down at the knees. The one I left up got hit."
This marked the first time Medlen pitched in the presence of his son Max, who was born on Feb. 5.
"I walked in after the first inning and saw [my wife and son] coming in," Medlen said. "So he didn't see me give up the home run. So that was good."
• Fifth-starter candidate Sean Gilmartin allowed four earned runs and six hits in three innings against the Astros on Saturday. Gilmartin struggled to command his big curveball in the windy conditions.
• Joey Terdoslavich went 4-for-4 in Saturday's loss and has batted .643 (9-for-14) during the first nine games of the exhibition season.
Terdoslavich will likely begin the year getting used to playing in the outfield with Triple-A Gwinnett. But the switch-hitter has at least strengthened his bid to win a spot on Atlanta's Opening Day roster.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.