Bullpen picture becomes clearer on a cloudy Sunday
With ominous rain clouds hovering around the Disney area this morning, Jair Jurrjens and Nate Mclouth may have to alter today’s plans.
But it now appears that Mother Nature may cooperate until at least 2 p.m. ET. This would likely allow Jurrjens the chance to complete the four innings that he is scheduled to pitch against the Cardinals today.
If rain prevents the Braves and Cardinals from playing this afternoon, Jurrjens would get his work in during a Minor League game tomorrow.
Because the Braves slated each of their pitchers to have at least one extra day of rest before their first regular season start, Jurrjens would still be on a normal schedule leading up to his season debut on April 7 against the Cubs.
Speaking of Minor League games, McLouth was originally slated to bat eighth during this afternoon’s game against the Cardinals. But the Braves decided it would be better to have him head to one of the back fields today to rack up some at-bats against Minor Leaguers.
If this Minor League game is played, McLouth would be able to compile nine at-bats (one per inning) and possibly get out of the funk that has led him to record just one hit and 14 strikeouts in his first 35 at-bats this year.
If Mother Nature prevents play today, McLouth could certainly attempt to compile these at-bats during the same Minor League game that Jurrjens would be pitching in tomorrow.
Second round of cuts: The battle for the final two available spots in the Braves bullpen lost a few candidates this morning, when it was revealed that right-hander Jeff Lyman and left-handers Mike Dunn and Mariano Gomez will spend the rest of camp on the Minor League side.
Dunn and Lyman were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. Gomez was among four players re-assigned to Minor League camp. The others were catcher Orlando Mercado and outfielders Mitch Jones and Brent Clevlen.
While Dunn showed the strong arm the Braves knew they were getting when they acquired him as part of the deal that sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees, he also displayed the inconsistent command that has been present since he ended his days as a position player at the conclusion of the 2006 season.
“Dunn has that good arm,” Cox said. “He just needs more command of that fastball. He rushes out there a little too much. It’s just a matter of command.”
Lyman, who allowed one run and recorded five strikeouts in four innings, also impressed Cox during his first big league camp.
But as we move forward, it now appears that the battle for the final two bullpen spots will be waged between Scott Proctor, Jesse Chavez, Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Jo-Jo Reyes and Manny Acosta.
It still seems optimistic to think that Proctor, who is just 10 1/2 months removed from Tommy John surgery, would be ready by Opening Day. Cox understands that the veteran right-hander wouldn’t be available on a regular basis during the early weeks of the season.
But with some scheduled offdays present during this two-week stretch, Cox is still at least keeping this possibility alive.
Assuming that Proctor begins the season on the disabled list, Chavez, Venters and Reyes could be deemed the front-runners in this competition. Kimbrel undoubtedly has the greatest upside and it’s obvious that Cox really likes this young flamethower.
But Kimbrel could benefit from a little more Minor League seasoning and the Braves would have reason to be reluctant to open a 40-man roster spot for him with the understanding that he might be sent back down when Proctor is deemed ready.
Chavez has pitched more effectively since struggling in his first two outings and has the experience that he gained while making 73 appearances for the Pirates last year.
Venters or Reyes would team with Eric O’Flaherty to give the Braves two left-handed options during the middle innings.
With the lack of depth in the starting pitching department, it still would seemingly benefit the Braves to have Reyes start the year with Gwinnett and be stretched out in the event that one of Atlanta’s starting pitchers goes down with an injury.
While Kris Medlen would be available to make a spot start or fill a vacant rotation spot for an extended stretch, you could argue that his move into a starter’s role weakens the depth that could benefit the Braves as they attempt to protect the arms of Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito and Proctor.
Still with Reyes pitching just one inning in his past two outings, it seems the Braves are seriously thinking about having him begin the year in Atlanta’s bullpen.
Cox has routinely praised Venters’ sinker and history has shown that he likes to have a pitcher (think Kevin Gryboski) like this available to utilize when there’s a need to erase a threat with a double-play groundout.
BRAVES LINEUP vs. Cardinals