Bullpen taking shape
Jordan Schafer’s early success has been refreshing and Jeff Francoeur’s improved approach has been encouraging. But if you’re attempting to identify the two most important developments the Braves experienced during the regular season’s first week, you have to focus your attention on Rafael Soriano and Peter Moylan.
The most glaring concern for the Braves six games into the season has obviously been the bullpen which has accounted for 15 of the 25 earned runs the club has surrendered. But as we were still wondering how this relief corps had allowed eight of those runs in one inning, Soriano and Moylan started to turned doubt into optimism.
Soriano’s velocity hovered around 90 mph while he made just four appearances during the exhibiton season. Yet four appearances into the regular season, we’ve seen him complete four scoreless innings, surrender one hit and issue two walks.
Jeff Bennett is the only other Braves reliever who hasn’t been charged with an earned run. But in the 3 2/3 innings that he’s completed, Bennett has surrendered six hits, hit a batter and issued a walk. Don’t even try to figure out how he’s maintained a 0.00 ERA while opponents have compiled a .471 on-base percentage.
Nor do we need to determine why Moylan wasn’t able to retire any of the first five batters he faced this year. Overexcited about returning to the mound from Tommy John surgery, he was rushing his delivery and deny himself the opportunity to create sink with his fastball.
While slightly shortening the stride of his delivery Saturday night, Moylan struck out the only three batters that he faced. Along with being perfect, the inning also proved to be the most important the Braves have experienced this year.
There isn’t a late-inning situation that Moylan can’t handle. The side-winding Aussie can retire an opponent’s top left-handed or right-handed hitter. He can induce the groundball when neccessary and when provided the opportunity, I truly believe he will prove to be a dominant closer.
In essence, Moylan is the most valuable piece to this year’s bullpen and that’s why you have to give Cox so much credit for sending him back out there to protect a one-run lead Saturday night. By doing so, he allowed the right-handed reliever to regain the confidence he’d shown while proving to be the club’s most impressive pitcher during Spring Training.
After Moylan exited Saturday’s game, Soriano worked a scoreless eighth and Gonzalez produced a perfect ninth, during which he threw nine of his 13 pitches for strikes.
This is the way Cox envisions ending a number of games this year. At the beginning of Spring Training, he said his bullpen’s success hinged on the health of Moylan, Gonzalez and Soriano, who have all undergone season-ending elbow surgeries over the course of the past two years.
Soriano pitched all three games this past weekend and his most
impressive effort came Sunday, when he threw 10 of his 14 pitches for
strikes and notched two strikeouts in a perfect ninth inning
With this being the final year of a contract that calls for him to earn $6.1 million this year, there probably wasn’t reason to wonder if Soriano would be healthy when the regular season began.
Because he’s less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery, there was reason to wonder about Moylan’s arm. But proving to be somewhat of a medical marvel, he hasn’t provided any indication that he’s felt any sort of discomfort while throwing over the course of the past two months.
Gonzalez still hasn’t regained the velocity he possessed before undergoing TJ surgery in May of 2007. But if he continues to spot his curveball consistently, he can still be effective with a 92-93 mph fastball.
With Kris Medlen waiting in the wings, the Braves have the ability to fortify the front end of the their bullpen when necessary. But based on what we witnessed this past weekend, the back end is shaping up nicely.
Glavine update: Tom Glavine is expected to return to Turner Field this afternoon after meeting with Dr. James Andrews. There’s obviously a chance he could tell us he’s experienced a tear and needs to retire. Then again, he could just tell us that his shoulder discomfort is a product of broken scar tissue.
Whatever the case, I’d have to think it will be at least another month before he’d be cleared to pitch in a game with the big league club.