LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Growing up a Braves fan, Craig Kimbrel heard about how Greg Maddux used to prove prophetic after telling former Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone that he was going to throw a certain pitch to an opposing batter and then get him to hit a ball to a specific part of the field.
|Bracket | Full scoreboard|
While pitching the ninth inning of Team USA's 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico on Friday night at Miami's Marlins Park, Kimbrel gained first-hand confirmations of Maddux's ability to accurately predict outcomes.
With a man on second base and Yadier Molina on deck, Kimbrel told Maddux he had no desire to intentionally walk Carlos Beltran. Maddux, who was serving as Team USA's pitching coach, responded by saying "Let's throw two fastballs up and see if we can get him to pop it up."
Beltran did his part to add to Maddux's legend by popping Kimbrel's first-pitch fastball to shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
"I was like, 'You are a genius,'" Kimbrel said of his reaction to Maddux after he returned to the dugout. "'How did you do that? Like you knew that was going to happen.' I was like, 'You want to come out here every time and tell me where to throw it?'"
Unfortunately, Kimbrel's ability to keep Puerto Rico's ninth-inning lead to one run was not enough for Team USA to gain the victory it needed to advance to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic.
With his first Classic experience complete, Kimbrel returned to Braves camp in time to stretch and play catch with his teammates before Saturday night's game against the Yankees. Because he pitched on Thursday and Friday, Kimbrel likely will not return to Grapefruit League action before Monday.
"It was a great experience," Kimbrel said. "It was cool to see how much [Team USA manager] Joe Torre really appreciated it and how much fun he had. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth how we went out. But it was still a pretty awesome experience.
"Now we're sitting here two weeks before the season starts and I'm ready to go. It's going to be a little different going from high intensity, where every pitch counts, back to Spring Training, where it still counts but you don't have everybody screaming at you like you did in those games."
Kimbrel made three appearances during the Classic. He tossed a scoreless inning against Canada on Sunday and another on Friday night against Puerto Rico. In between, he allowed a pair of ninth-inning runs that allowed the Dominican Republic to beat Team USA, 3-1, on Thursday night.
Kimbrel allowed a run in three of the four exhibition season appearances he made before leaving Braves camp on March 3. Though he has allowed runs much more frequently than he did while compiling a 1.61 ERA over the past two seasons combined, the hard-throwing closer said he feels like he is close to being ready for the start of the regular season.
"I feel good," Kimbrel said. "I feel like I've got a little bit further to go. But I'm close. I might need an outing or two more to work some kinks out."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.