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.
Sims, Elander earn top Minor League honors
ATLANTA -- Rookie left-hander Alex Wood appears headed for a key role on the Braves' postseason pitching staff, and in the final week of the regular season, two more of Atlanta's top picks in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft were recognized earlier this week as the top pitcher and player in the Minor League organization for the 2013 season.
Right-hander Lucas Sims, taken 21st overall in 2012, was named the organization's pitcher of the year after compiling a 12-4 record and a 2.62 ERA in 28 games for Class A Rome. Outfielder Josh Elander, the Braves' sixth-round selection that year, was named the organization's player of the year after splitting time between Rome and Advanced A Lynchburg in his first full year of professional baseball.
Sims, Atlanta's No. 1 prospect and No. 93 overall prospect, met Wood shortly after the pitchers were selected in consecutive rounds of the 2012 Draft, but he has not felt any pressure to follow Wood's fast track to the big leagues. Sims honed his fastball command in Rome and began to turn a corner midway through his campaign.
"A little bit before the All-Star break, I started to get in a groove, started getting comfortable with my routine -- running, lifting, throwing, bullpens, all that," Sims said. "All the staff that came through and helped me out with mechanics, everything just kind of started to click. I had a few rough outings here and there, but I was able to bounce back and finish with a better season than I expected."
After Elander spent 36 games of rookie ball in his natural position behind the plate, the Braves converted him to an outfielder during last year's instructional league under the direction of Minor League outfield coordinator Doug Dascenzio, and he split time between left field and designated hitter in 2013.
"Growing up, I was a catcher, but in Texas summer ball, it's 105 degrees outside and you have those doubleheaders," Elander said. "I usually catch the first one and play outfield the second, so it wasn't a completely foreign position to me. Actually, my freshman year of college, too, I played outfield, and then the next two years I caught. Obviously, catcher was my first love, but outfield may be the one I get married to."
Elander shined at the plate during both of his Minor League stops, batting .293 with 15 home runs and 93 RBIs between Rome and Lynchburg, capping the year with a .316 average and an .823 OPS in August.
Sims and Elander took in batting practice at Turner Field on Saturday afternoon along with the rest of the Braves' Minor League award winners for the 2013 season, observing the pregame preparations of this year's Triple-A Gwinnett award-winners -- player of the year Joey Terdoslavich and pitcher of the year David Hale -- who have both latched on to the big league roster this season since being called up for the first time.
"Looking back at just the little taste of pro ball that I got last year, it's really cool to think about the amount that I feel like I learned and progressed as a baseball player and even a person," Sims said. "It was a great year."
Also in attendance were the rest of the organizational award-winners: for Double-A Mississippi, pitcher Gus Schlosser and infielder Tommy La Stella; for Lynchburg, pitcher Williams Perez and outfielder Robert Hefflinger; for Rome, pitcher Shae Simmons and infielder Jose Peraza; for Rookie League Danville, pitcher Andrew Waszak and third baseman Victor Caratini; for the Gulf Coast League, pitcher Oriel Caicedo and outfielder Victor Reyes; and for the Dominican Summer League, pitcher Felix Falcon and outfielder Kelvin Estevez.
• When manager Fredi Gonzalez talked to reporters on Friday, he indicated Brian McCann might rest his strained right adductor muscle until Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday. But on Saturday, Gonzalez said there was a chance McCann could make an appearances in Sunday's regular season finale.
• Jordan Walden provided some encouragement with the bullpen session he completed on Friday. To gain a sense of whether he is healthy enough to be placed on the Division Series roster, the Braves would like to get Walden an appearance before the regular season ends. The right-handed setup man has not pitched since he was ineffective in two of the three appearances he made after missing three weeks with a strained groin.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.