Braves need to assess roster needs
Regardless of how they fare during the final two games of this week’s series against the Padres, the Braves will return home and have to seriously evaluate the possibility of making multiple adjustments to their roster.
As was proven with last weekend’s sweep in San Francisco, this is a talented club that is capable of matching up against the game’s best. But there have also been far too many games when it has been apparent that they have obvious weaknesses on their bench and in the bullpen.
Perfect rosters simply don’t exist in the baseball world. The Braves simply have to feel fortunate that they at least have internal pieces that could help strengthen their bench or bullpen.
Long before Cristhian Martinez surrendered Ryan Ludwick’s walk-off homer in last night’s 5-3 loss to the Padres, the Braves squandered a perfectly good opportunity to claim a series-opening win against a club that has totaled just three runs over its previous four games.
There are no guarantees in the athletic world. But had the Braves recorded that last out in the seventh inning with their one-run lead intact, you certainly would have felt good about the odds of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel shutting things down in the eighth and ninth innings.
“The most important inning in every single ball game that we play this year is the seventh inning,” Chipper Jones said after last night’s loss. “If we get through the seventh, we’re fine. If we don’t get through the seventh, we’re going to get beat. It changes the whole outlook of the game.”
It’s been said so many times over the past couple days that I’m starting to feel like I’m Peter Moylan’s publicist. But had Moylan been around for last night’s seventh inning, there’s a pretty good chance the Braves would be entering tonight’s game with a four-game winning streak.
Well actually if he had been available to pitch the seventh inning of last Thursday’s 12-inning loss to the Dodgers, the Braves might be carrying a five-game winning streak into tonight’s game.
Instead the Braves were left to hand the ball to Scott Linebrink in both instances. Linebrink allowed the Dodgers to hit a go-ahead homer in last Thursday’s seventh inning and allowed the Padres to tie the game after he entered last night’s game with two outs in the seventh.
Some of you were upset that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez pulled left-handed reliever Eric O’Flaherty after he recorded the first two outs of last night’s seventh inning. O’Flaherty had thrown 30 pitches while recording two scoreless innings on Sunday and had thrown just 10 pitches Monday night.
Obviously, O’Flaherty could have remained in the game to face right-handed Nick Hundley, who hit .274 in 62 at-bats against left-handed pitchers last year and .242 in 211 at-bats against right-handed pitchers.
Gonzalez has given O’Flaherty multiple opportunities to face right-handed hitters this year and he has proven quite effective, minus when he allowed three singles to right-handers during an April 14 loss. But this time he handed the ball to Linebrink, who has now allowed right-handers eight hits in 25 at-bats this year.
Linebrink seemed to create some optimism when he displayed an effective split-finger against the Mets in the ninth inning of the second game of a doubleheader on April 16. But he has provided Gonzalez little reason to confidently use him in tight situations.
Linebrink hasn’t provided many surprises. As Spring Training progressed and the first weeks of the regular season elapsed, there wasn’t much reason to believe he would play one of the key roles in the bullpen. But one month into the season, it’s seemingly time to assess whether the Braves have to clear some dead weight out of their bullpen.
Heading into tonight’s game, Gonzalez knows he can confidently turn to Venters and Kimbrel. O’Flaherty also fits in the “highly-dependable” category that Moylan will fall back into once he returns from the disabled list.
With these four relievers, the Braves have the foundation of a solid bullpen. It would certainly be strengthened if Cory Gearrin is able to continue pitching like he did while tossing two perfect innings in his Major League debut last night.
Most Major League clubs should feel good about having five reliable relievers. But once Moylan returns (possibly as early as Saturday), the Braves may have to ask whether they should cut ties with either Linebrink or George Sherrill, the left-handed specialist who has made eight appearances this year and just one during the first eight games of this road trip.
Simply put, Gearrin, Jairo Asencio, Juan Abreu and Stephen Marek all seem to be better options.
From an offensive standpoint, the Braves are expected to promote another position player when they return home for this weekend’s series against the Cardinals. Matt Young was sent to Gwinnett last Friday, when the Braves wisely opted to carry an extra pitcher for this week.
But when it comes time to return to a 12-man pitching staff, the Braves may be better served to promote Jose Constanza, who hit .347 (25-for-72) and been successful with eight of his nine stolen base attempts for Triple-A Gwinnett this year.
The Braves’ bench has also seemingly been weakened as they have spent the season’s first month carrying Brandon Hicks and Brooks Conrad at the same time. Hicks needs to be around to serve as a backup shortstop and Conrad was Mr. Clutch coming off the bench this year.
But Conrad hasn’t played the field at any point this year and there are no guarantees he will rekindle the magic he displayed last year. If the Braves are going to carry somebody who simply serves as a pinch hitter, they might be better off utilizing Mauro Gomez’s power or Wilkin Ramirez’ power-speed talents.