He always had a blur of a fastball that flirted with 100 mph, then Craig Kimbrel honed his curveball. Game over. Literally.

That's when the Braves closer became absurdly good -- as legitimately close to unhittable as we've seen a pitcher in some time.

So now what?

Kimbrel, at age 24 already the best closer in baseball, is coming off a season for the ages, having set new records by striking out half of all batters he faced in 2012 while piling up 16.66 strikeouts per nine innings -- a number that looks evil (those 6's) but probably wasn't as frightening as Kimbrel seemed to most hitters.

Can the Alabama native sustain something close to this level of domination, after posting a 1.01 ERA and limiting opponents to a .126 batting average last season while striking out a record 50.2 percent of the batters he faced? Kimbrel sounds as if he's ready to try.

"Hitters start picking up on your tendencies and the rhythms and the way you do things," he said. "Try to mess up your timing or mess up the way you pitch a certain guy. You've just got to keep on trying to trick the hitter. That's our job as pitchers, let him not know what's coming. And if he does know, put it somewhere where he can't hit it."

All the accomplishments – two-time All-Star, unanimous NL Rookie of the Year in 2011, leads the majors with 88 saves over two seasons, eighth in MVP balloting in 2012 -- and the mounting praise seem to have made him more determined to avoid complacency.

"Pretty cool," he said Tuesday, before a workout on the first day of the Braves' voluntary early pitching program at Turner Field. "If I had been sitting here two years ago and [someone predicted] all the things that have been said and the things I've been able to do the last two years, I'd have said no way. But really, I'm still just working hard and hoping I can keep things going.