NEW YORK Spotless through the summer, Craig Kimbrel struggled in the stretch. The newest NL Rookie of the Year intends to learn from a particular late-season blemish.
The Atlanta Braves closer unanimously won the award Monday, with Tampa Bay pitcher Jeremy Hellickson emerging from a talented crop to take the AL honor.
It definitely did surprise me, Kimbrel said on a conference call from his vacation in Hawaii. I expected it to be close.
The AL Cy Young Award will be announced today. Detroit ace Justin Verlander is expected to easily win.
Hes the best pitcher in the game, Hellickson said.
Kimbrel set a major league record for saves by a rookie with 46. He earned all 32 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America and outpointed Braves teammate Freddie Freeman.
The hard-throwing righty was dominant for much of the year and chosen as an NL All-Star during his streak of 38 straight appearances without allowing a run. But that string ended in mid-September and the 23-year-old Kimbrel was wobbly as the Braves frittered away a 10 1/2-game lead in the NL wild-card race.
Kimbrel struck out 127 in only 77 innings and anchored Atlantas outstanding bullpen, pitching 79 games. He was 4-3 with a 2.10 ERA, and his long scoreless span covered 37 2-3 innings.
Hellickson went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA in helping the Rays take the AL wild-card spot. He drew 17 of 28 first-place votes and finished well ahead of Los Angeles Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo.
Its something I really wanted to win, Hellickson said on a conference call from his home in Iowa. He said there were three or four guys equally deserving of the award.
The 24-year-old Hellickson was a big reason the Rays were able to erase a nine-game deficit against Boston in the last 3 1/2 weeks to win the AL wild-card spot. He was unbeaten in five starts against AL East teams in the final month, and finished 7-3 in games against division rivals.
On the next-to-last day, he kept the Rays close against the visiting New York Yankees. On his final pitch of the regular season, Hellickson got Russell Martin to ground into a triple play with the bases loaded, and the Rays went on to win.
Hellickson, incidentally, has a Yorkshire terrier called Jeter as in, Yankees star Derek Jeter. Hellicksons dad was a big Reggie Jackson fan, and the dog wound up with the name.