Kimbrel puts on dazzling display in Padres debut

Kimbrel puts on dazzling display in Padres debut

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

Padres' players lined the rail of their dugout Tuesday night to catch the first glimpse of their latest teammate.

Few were seeing Craig Kimbrel for the first time. But everyone was seeing Kimbrel as a Padre for the first time.

And his debut was short and sweet -- even if his new teammates denied him the opportunity of getting a save by scoring four times against the Dodgers' bullpen in the top of the ninth.

Kimbrel threw 16 pitches -- 10 were for strikes. He struck out all three Dodgers he faced -- Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson and Justin Turner. All three went down swinging. Actually, they went down flailing.

Kimbrel has a devastating combination for a relief pitcher. His fastball hits 97-98 mph on the radar gun ... with movement. And his curve -- more like a "slurve" cross between a curve and a hard slider -- has so much late break that it looks like a dive bomber.

Black on Kimbrel, team's 7-3 win

That combination might explain why the 26-year-old right-hander already has 185 saves over the past four seasons. By comparison, Trevor Hoffman didn't record his 185th save until late in his 30th year.

Kimbrel has a 1.43 ERA in 295 games. He has struck out 479 of the 1,130 batters he has faced -- meaning he has struck out 42.4 percent of all the Major League hitters he has faced at an average of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

But that's not the most incredible stat regarding Kimbrel, whom the Padres acquired from the Atlanta Braves on the eve of the season opener.

Rival hitters are hitting .152 against Kimbrel since his Major League debut on May 7, 2010. Last year they hit .142. Less than a runner an inning has reached base against Kimbrel over the course of his career.

It's not often that a team has the best player in the Major Leagues at his position.

And that's exactly what the Padres have with Kimbrel.

Notes from the scorebook:

• Right-handed starters James Shields and Tyson Ross had much the same lines in the season's first two games. Each held the Dodgers to two runs on six hits over six innings. Shields walked two, hit a batter and struck out eight. He threw 95 pitches with 64 strikes. Ross walked three with four strikeouts. He threw 90 pitches with 52 strikes.

• I thought the best play of Tuesday night's game was the relay from left fielder Justin Upton to shortstop Alexi Amarista to third baseman Will Middlebrooks to nail Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins as he tried to stretch a double into a triple with one out in the third.

Amarista's catch of Upton's throw while setting up for his throw to Middlebrooks was textbook. Two perfect throws likely saved the Padres a run that could have changed the course of the game.

Upton, Amarista nab Rollins

Yonder Alonso gave the Padres a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth Tuesday with a line-drive single to left off Dodgers left-handed reliever J.P. Howell. Coming into the season, the left-handed-hitting Alonso was a .240 career hitter against left-handed pitching and a .281 hitter against right-handers. He singled in each of his last three at-bats Tuesday.

• Catcher Derek Norris has put his speed to good use in the first two games. He has two doubles among his four hits in the season's first two games. He has three runs scored and two RBIs. Norris scored from first in the season opener on a double by Matt Kemp, scored on a groundout Tuesday night, had an infield single Monday and almost beat out an infield hit on Tuesday on a grounder to Rollins.