Stability provided from a pair of unexpected sources
Going back one month to when we learned Brandon Beachy would be lost for the remainder of the season, how ridiculous would it have been to say, “The Braves will be just fine once Jair Jurrjens and Ben Sheets solidify their starting rotation.” At the time, such a statement might have rivaled with, “This is going to be that year that Jack Wilson hits 20 bombs.”
Yet as we progress through the season’s first full week after the All-Star break, some of the optimism surrounding the surging Braves can be linked to the presence of Sheets and Jurrjens.
Sure the Braves could benefit from the addition of Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza or another veteran starting pitcher before the trade deadline. Such an addition could prove to be the piece they would need if they advance to the playoffs and match up against some of the game’s best pitchers.
But if Sheets and Jurrjens can stay healthy and productive, the Braves have already found a pair of starters that are capable of producing the consistency they need to gain a playoff spot.
After Jurrjens made his successful return to the Majors with an impressive outing against the Red Sox on June 22, he essentially entered his next few starts surrounded by skepticism — the realistic side of the oft-cruel baseball world. But to his credit, he has spent the past couple of weeks quieting his doubters and proving to be the reliable rotation piece the Braves needed.
Jurrjens has posted a 2.13 ERA and limited opponents to a .291 on-base percentage in the four starts he has made since experiencing a two-month long demotion to Triple-A Gwinnett.
Now the Braves can only hope to gain the same from Sheets, who might still be floating after allowing just two hits in six scoreless innings against the Mets on Sunday. Not bad for a guy who had not pitched in a Major League game in nearly two years.
Twelve years ago, Sheets tossed a three-hit shutout against Cuba in the Gold Medal Game of the 2000 Olympics. Four years ago, he found himself as the National League’s starting pitcher in an All-Star Game. But now that he has had time to digest all that occurred on Sunday, I plan on asking him today if his latest thrill should now be considered his greatest.
Still as impressive as Sheets was while throwing a 90-91 mph fastball and that same ol’ nasty curveball on Sunday, he’ll enter his next couple outings surrounded by skepticism. Some will wonder how long he can stay healthy and others will wonder when he might start to show some of the rust that developed while he spent the past two years getting healthy.
But even with some doubts still surrounding both Jurrjens and Sheets, it seems pretty safe to say the Braves are much better off with them sitting in the middle of their rotation than Mike Minor and Randall Delgado.
With this being said, Minor and Delgado will both make key starts over the next week. Delgado will be called up from Gwinnett to start one of the games during Saturday’s doubleheader against the Nationals. Minor will start both Wednesday night’s game against the Giants and Monday night’s game against the Marlins.
QUICK THOUGHTS: Obviously there was not a lot of excitement expressed from fans when it was announced the Braves had filled their need for a shortstop by acquiring Paul Janish from the Reds. Such is the case when you acquire 29-year-old man with a .590 OPS.
But those understood the trade seemed to appreciate the fact that Janish should be able to provide the solid glove the Braves need until Andrelton Simmons’ broken right pinky finger heals. Janish likely will not hit like Simmons did during his first five weeks in the big leagues. But before getting too excited about this, remember there was certainly no guarantee that Simmons was going to continue exceeding offensive expectations.
It will interesting to see how Jonny Venters progresses once he comes off the disabled list on Friday. If he continues to struggle, there will obviously be a greater need for the Braves to acquire a reliever. But this is a need they might also be able to fill in August when necessary. Given the number of teams still in playoff contention, the waiver-wire trade season in August might prove to be a little more exciting than normal this year.
Here is a breakdown of the 73 batters Craig Kimbrel has faced dating back to May 15
39 have been retired via strikeout (53.4 percent)
6 have reached base via a hit or walk (8.2 percent)
4 have recorded hits (5.5 percent)
72.2 percent of the 306 pitches thrown have been strikes
Now for the stats that have been compiled during this 22-game stretch: 22 IP, 39 K, 1 HR, 1 R, 0.41 ERA
Opponents’ averages: .056 BA, .082 OBP, .099 SLG
Barry Zito enters tonight’s matchup against Jurrjens with 2.45 ERA in five career starts against the Braves. He has lasted at least seven innings in four of those outings, including each of the three made since the start of 2008. Dan Uggla (6-for-20) is the only current Atlanta player with more than 10 career at-bats against the left-hander.