Showing respect to Kawakami has proven costly
Recognizing that he would be embarrassed in his native land and protecting their future interests in bringing other Japanese players to Atlanta, the Braves never aggressively persuaded Kenshin Kawakami to go to the Minors to continue serving as a starting pitcher.
Consequently they find themselves in a position where Mike Minor appears to be the only sensible option to fill the rotation spot that was opened when Kris Medlen suffered a potentially serious right elbow injury.
Once the MRI results are reviewed, we’ll learn whether Medlen will indeed need to undergo Tommy John surgery and be lost for a year. If that’s the case, then the Braves may have no other choice but to get Minor’s service clock rolling and throw him into the heat of a pennant race.
If the Braves still had the seven-game advantage that they possessed over the Phillies two weeks ago, then maybe they could send Kawakami to the mound Monday night with the hope that he could work at least three or four innings.
But if there was even an inkling to do this, you’d have to think they would have at least allowed him to pitch the final two innings of last night’s win against the Mets. Yet with a four-run eighth-inning advantage, they provided further indication that have little confidence in his ability to be a reliable contributor to their pitching staff.
It’s certainly not Kawakami’s fault that he has pitched just one inning since ending his days in the rotation with his victorious June 26 effort against the Tigers. Instead, this reality has now grown into an even greater problem for the Braves.
With the possibility that Medlen will be sidelined until at least August of next year, there may now be a need to put Kawakami in the 2011 rotation. But with the assumption that Minor will be a part of it, the Braves may have to trade either Jair Jurrjens or Derek Lowe to open a spot for the Japanese right-hander, who is still owed a little more than $8 million through the end of next year.
Given that Minor has gone 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA in the five starts he’s made since being promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett, there’s certainly a chance he will prove to be a reliable fifth starter. But he has made just 24 starts since leaving Vanderbilt last year and just 20 of those have been completed above the Class A level.
While some of you have expressed concern about the fact that Minor went 2-6 with a 4.03 ERA in 15 starts for Double-A Mississippi this year, I don’t think this should be viewed in a negative manner. From what I have been told, the defensive support at Mississippi was shoddy at best.
Mike Leake, who was taken one selection after Minor in the first round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, has proven to be a key piece to the Reds resurgence this year.
The Braves now may have to hope that Minor provides similar value.
Minor will start for Gwinnett at Lehigh Valley tonight. If he throws just a couple of innings, he could still be in line to fill Medlen’s rotation spot Monday when the Braves open a three-game series in Houston.
The Braves have recalled Cristhian Martinez from Triple-A Gwinnett. He could be asked to throw a couple of innings Monday night as a starter or reliever.
If the Braves decide to give Minor at least one more start at Gwinnett, Martinez and Kawakami could piggy-back each other during that series opener in Houston.
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