Waiting on the boys from Gwinnett
Well it’s good to see a Braves pitching staff producing dominant stats similar to the ones that Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine produced back in the day. Unfortunately it seems like the some of the guys producing these numbers in Gwinnett County are still a few weeks away from making the 30-mile trek to the organization’s home base in Fulton County.
In their past 15 games entering Saturday, Triple-A Gwinnett’s starting rotation had posted a 1.17 ERA. That equates to 11 runs in their past 84 2/3 innings, or one fewer run than Kenshin Kawakami has allowed in his past 9 2/3 innings.
Tommy Hanson has allowed two earned runs in his past 18 innings and Kris Medlen has totaled 13 consecutive scoreless innings to lower his season ERA to 1.17. Charlie Morton limited Durham to one run and six hits in eight innings on
Friday night. The lanky right-hander has allowed just three runs in
his past 20 innings.
Obviously it hasn’t been surprising that the two weakest links in the Atlanta rotation this year have been Kawakami and Jo-Jo Reyes, who has assured himself of going at least 11 months between Major League victories.
Because the Braves decided to give Kawakami a three-year, $23 million contract in January, some might have gained the impression that he could prove to be a difference maker. But at 33 years-old the Japanese right-hander has provided every indication he’s nothing more than a fourth or fifth starter.
But with Hanson and Medlen waiting in the wings, it would be hard to argue how Kawakami could fit in as one of the top five pitchers in the Atlanta rotation over the life of his three-year deal, which runs concurrently with Derek Lowe’s.
As for Reyes, he has shown flashes that he has the capability of being solid third starter. But as his developmental process continues to grow even longer, the 24-year-old left-hander continues to find ways to extend a losing streak that now extends back to June 23.
With improved control and the development of a solid breaking ball, Reyes possesses almost all of the tools he needs to be a successful big league pitcher. But he’s still lacks the ever-important ability to overcome adversity.
As soon as Yunel Escobar botched a second-inning grounder during the second inning of Friday’s game against the Phillies, you could basically see Reyes come unwound. He then issued a four-pitch walk to the .182-hitting Chris Coste before lobbing Cole Hamels’ swinging bunt into right field.
Should Reyes have let Hamels’ slow roller roll foul? Should he have simply thrown through Hamels to draw an interference call? Taking either one of these actions might have provided an immediate solution that would have likely prevented the Phillies from constructing their four-run second inning.
But mistakes like this are going to occur and Reyes’ most glaring sin proved to be how he reacted to the growing adversity that he faced following Escobar’s error.
I’m certainly not going to be hypocritical and claim that Morton should have been brought to Atlanta before Reyes. Because he was injured most of Spring Training, Morton really wasn’t even an option when Reyes joined the big league rotation on April 18.
In addition, I was among those who believed Reyes was the better choice because he seemed to be mentally tougher. But if he struggles on Wednesday against the Mets, Morton should be given a chance to prove himself during the final weeks of May.
Obviously, Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen are the top options available in Gwinnett. But because they aren’t on the 40-man roster, Morton be given the chance to maintain a rotation spot until one or both of those young right-handers are promoted in June.
Or Morton could at least fill a rotation spot until Tom Glavine is ready to return in a couple of weeks.
Regardless of how you analyze this, Reyes is running out of opportunities to prove himself. Despite the fact that he’s improved over the course of the past year, it’s hard to see great potential when you look at the fact that he’s 0-9 with a 6.61 ERA in his past 18 appearances (17 starts).
While the Braves have the option to move Reyes back to the Minors, they aren’t exactly in a position where they could do the same with Kawakami. First of all, he deserves more than five career starts to prove himself and secondly, by doing so the organization would be acknowledging the mistake that they made by giving him the lucrative three-year contract.
Things aren’t exactly going to get any easier for Kawakami when he opposes the Phillies at the homer haven known as Citizens Bank Park on Sunday. Having allowed five homers during the first 25 2/3 innings of his career, the baseball gods have given him the cruel assignment of making consecutive road starts in the band boxes located in Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
When I drew the analogy that this would be like sending Appalachian State into Ann Arbor on consecutive weekends, the AJC’s Dave O’Brien reminded me that going into Michigan isn’t much of a challenge now that Rich Rodriguez is coaching there.
And with that, my day has been made. It’s nice to know that non-West Virginians are now making fun of the man that both the Hatfields and McCoys love to hate.