March 2014

Quick thoughts about each member of the Braves Opening Day roster

If former Boston Post sports editor Gerald V. Hern was still around to cover the Braves the updated version of his famous poem about Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain might be recognized by these words:  Teheran and Wood, then skip the next three days  if we could. 

A National League scout recently asked if a team has ever entered a season with three pitchers who haven’t thrown a pitch at the Major League level?  My immediate response was, “I can guarantee you this year’s Braves bunch will be the first two do so after leading the Majors in ERA the year before.”

Unfortunately, relievers Ian Thomas, Ryan Buchter and Gus Schlosser do not stand as primary sources of concern as they prepare to introduce themselves to the big league scene within the next few days.  The concern has more to do with the guys who are going to force Thomas, Buchter and Schlosser to be on high alert early and often as the Braves spend the early portion of this season dealing with the consequences of losing Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to season-ending elbow injuries within a 24-hour span earlier this month.

The 1927 Yankees would not have felt good about entering a season with a four-man rotation that includes an aged veteran (Aaron Harang) that has been with six different organizations in the past calendar year and a rookie (David Hale) whose promise is a product of the two strong starts he made during a month (September) that scouts and talent evaluators have long recognized as one that can often produce faulty evaluations.

But instead of focusing on the obvious fact that the Braves are going to have problems with their rotation until Ervin Santana, Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd all make their expected season debuts at differing points over the past week, we’re going to attempt to keep things a little more upbeat by taking a quick look at what Spring Training told us about each member of Atlanta’s Opening Day roster:

B.J. Upton —  If you’re still choosing to give Spring Training statistics some validity, remember that B.J. hit .347 in 75 Grapefruit League at-bats last year and then didn’t much of anything over the six months that mattered.  With that being said, it should be noted that he struck out in 13 of the final 35 at-bats he recorded this exhibition season. But there were signs of improvement as the veteran center fielder got used to the more stable batting stance he attempted to regain this winter.

As B.J. begins this year positioned in front of Freddie Freeman in the lineup’s second spot, he might see a higher percentage of fastballs than he did last year.  According to FanGraphs’ Pitch f/x data, he saw nearly the same percentage of fastballs the past two years. In 2012 he had a 12.4  wFB (Fastball wins above average).  Last year that number dipped to -4.8.  Thus maybe it is fitting that two of B.J.’s most encouraging at-bats over the past month ended with him hitting Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler’s fastball for singles  —  one that went right up the middle and the other to right-center field.

Dan Uggla  —  Like addicts on the road to recovery, Uggla seemed to take a big step when he admitted that he has been “homer-happy” the past couple of years.  In an effort to rid himself of the bad habits that led his front side to fly open far too frequently, the veteran second baseman spent this winter focusing on keeping his left hip and left shoulder square.  He struggled during the early portion of the Grapefruit League season, but he finished strong, recording seven hits and striking out just five times in his final 21 at-bats.  Taking an old familiar line from Bobby Cox,  “you can tell he feels good because he’s smiling again.”

Freddie Freeman  — Other than dealing with an armpit rash caused by his Spring Training jersey, Freeman spent the past six weeks smiling.  I think it’s one of those indelible ones that comes with receiving $135 million.  As for that rash, it didn’t prevent him from going 9-for-15  in his last six exhibition games.

Andrelton Simmons  —  As he packed his bag after the final home game at Disney, Simmons said he was feeling great at the plate.  When I asked if he had gotten comfortable with hitting coach Greg Walker was preaching in attempt to gain a more consistent swing plane, Simmons said, “about five of the 10 things he suggested work for me.” This isn’t the space to go into detail. But obviously given what he brings with his glove, nobody is going to complain if he hits around .250, pushes his on-base percentage above .300 and hits 10-15 home runs.  Yeah, he hit 17 taters last year.  But there’s no reason for him to aim to match that total at the expense of becoming a better-rounded product at the plate.

Chris Johnson  —  Very interesting to see that Fredi Gonzalez plans to bat Johnson in the cleanup spot.  In order for this to work, Johnson has to stick with the “hit the ball to all fields” approach that helped him rank second in the NL with a .321 batting average last year.  He batted .336 with runners in scoring position and .396 with runners in scoring position and two outs. Given the .394 BABIP he produced last year, we’ll likely see some regression with the batting average.  But he’s certainly capable of flirting with the .300 mark again.

Jason Heyward  —  As I enter my 14th season on this beat, I still contend that J.D. Drew’s 2004 season was the most overall (offense, defense and  base running)  impressive one I have covered in Atlanta.  If Heyward remains healthy and plays at least 150 games this year, there’s a chance I will no longer have to give Drew this status and then attempt to explain to those who forget how good a motivated J.D. Drew was.  Heyward has to potential to be much greater.  In fact if I had to pick the one Braves player most likely to win the National League MVP Award this year, it would be the 24-year-old right fielder.

Justin Upton  — Upton put the Braves on his back during the two most influential stretches (April and late July-early August) last year.  While every player is “streaky”, this 26-year-old right fielder seems to take “streakiness” to another level.  Despite hitting at least 26 home runs three of the past five seasons, he has never had a 100-RBI campaign. He’ll have a chance to reach this mark this season.  But he will have to be more productive than he was while hitting .243 with runners in scoring position last year.

Evan Gattis:  I’ve never been a fan of using the catcher as in the cleanup spot because once every five days the middle of the lineup is jumbled.  Manager Fredi Gonzalez didn’t seem bothered by this when asked during the early days of Spring Training.  But after Gattis struggled during Spring Training, the Braves opted to move him from cleanup to the seventh spot in the lineup.  Gattis will be looking to prove he can remain durable enough to remain offensively productive while serving as the starting catcher for 100-110 games this year.

Gerald Laird: With the recent departures of Tim Hudson, Peter Moylan, Eric Hinske and Brian McCann, the Braves have lost jovial characters who keep the clubhouse loose.  Along with being able to provide this attribute, Laird will play a significant role this year as should get more playing time than the average backup catcher.

Jordan Schafer:  There was a time last year when it appeared Schafer was going to start sharing time with B.J. Upton in center field. Unfortunately for Schafer, that time came right around when he suffered a stress fracture in his foot.  While he has aspirations to play on an everyday basis again, this athletic outfielder must get back to where he was early last season, when he was putting the ball in play consistently and benefiting from his tremendous speed.

Ryan Doumit:  While he might not get much playing time in the field, the switch-hitting Doumit will likely serve as the club’s primary pinch hitter throughout this season.

Ramiro Pena:  While providing a number of clutch pinch hits and a reliable glove as he often served as a late-inning defensive replacement for Johnson, he was Atlanta’s most valuable bench player before he injured his shoulder last year.  A strong offensive showing during Spring Training proved he is healthy.

Tyler Pastornicky:   Two years removed from beginning a season as Atlanta’s starting shortstop, Pastornicky is now a utility man whose defensive skills are most valuable on the infield’s left side.

Julio Teheran:  Ask his teammates about this 23-year-old hurler and in some way or another they’ll tell you he is fearless.  We saw how stoic he was last year when he plunked Bryce Harper and then walked directly toward Harper as the Nationals outfielder was yelling at him in August.  Yeah, that can sometimes be “false” bravado.  But instead, of being overwhelmed by the emotions that night at Nationals Park, the young hurler completed his victorious six-inning effort without allowing another run.  <p>

While Teheran has quickly gained a stronger feel for the English language, the language barrier is still somewhat evident when he says things like, “I think I’m the best.” He’s not the egotistical, boastful type.  But as Gerald Laird said, “He’s got a good edge to him.”

Alex Wood: When the Braves were set to draft Wood in the second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, legendary scout Paul Snyder told the club to stay away from the collegiate southpaw if they had any intention of messing with his funky delivery.  Fortunately, nobody has messed with this funky delivery that helped Wood post a 0.90 ERA in five August starts last year.  Along with having a deceptive delivery and effective curveball, Wood has a genuine level of confidence you might not expect from somebody who is less than two years removed from his career at the University of Georgia.

Aaron Harang:  I’m still baffled as to why the Braves believe Harang was a better option than Freddy Garcia. When pitchers reach this point of their career, I’ll take craftiness over a velocity advantage.  Regardless, Atlanta will be in trouble if Harang needs to make more than 10 starts this year. Yeah, the same would have been said in reference to Garcia.

David Hale:  Hale is one of the few Major Leaguers who can claim that some of his college buddies are currently making more money than him.  This Princeton grad produced two strong starts last September.  But if the Braves really believed that he was capable of doing what he did, then why did Kameron Loe start that Sept. 4 series finale against the Mets?

Craig Kimbrel:  Kimbrel went through Spring Training without having to accelerate his preparations like he did when he participated in the World Baseball Classic last year.  Now that the regular season has arrived, he will once again begin displaying his high-octane fastball and ridiculous slider.

Luis Avilan:  Stump your friends with this one: Who has the lowest ERA among all left-handed relievers who have made at least 80 appearances dating back to Aug. 1, 2012?  Avilan is much more stable than Jordan Walden and will likely serve as Kimbrell’s primary setup man.

Jordan Walden:  Walden was quite impressive until he strained both groin muscles and then was essentially worthless during last season’s final five weeks.  Injuries have plagued the right-hander throughout his career. But if he can remain healthy, the Braves will once again rely on him to record outs in the seventh and eighth innings.

David Carpenter:  Carpenter had a heck of journey last year as he began the season in the Minors and ended it by surrendering a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the  NL Division Series against the Dodgers.   The 0.82 ERA he produced in 11 Grapefruit League appearances indicated that he is not battling any lingering effects.

Anthony Varvaro:  Varvaro struggled during the early portion of this year’s exhibition season as he attempted to develop a slider he has since ditched.  Minus the second inning of a multi-inning appearance he made against the Orioles on March 21, the veteran reliever at least showed some signs of improvement as the regular season approached.

Gus Schlosser:  Schlosser is a better option in the rotation than both Harang and Hale.  But the right-hander who produces an effective sinker with his side-arm delivery also stands as one of the best middle relief options in an Atlanta bullpen that also currently lacks depth.   He might have to remain available to serve as a long reliever during the season’s early weeks. But he has the potential to see some time in high-leverage relief situations before this season is complete.

Ian Thomas:  Schlosser would have been this year’s feel-good Spring Training story, had Thomas not made the rise from the independent leagues to the Majors in two years.  The lanky left-hander’s unexpected rise has come with the benefit of a curveball he began refining as he prepared to begin the 2012 season with the Atlantic League’s York Revolution.

Ryan Bucther:  There’s a lot to like about this left-handed reliever who has produced impressive strikeout totals the past few years.  Unfortunately, he needs time to address the command issues that will likely send him back to the Minors when Ervin Santana’s return allows Atlanta to go to a five-man rotation next week.






Braves exit Spring Training with rotation concerns

It is not necessarily easy to evaluate all that transpires with a club during the six-week period known as Spring Training.  But I think it’s safe to say, it is never good when Dr. James Andrews is the one who is making the most significant cuts.

Given all that occurred over the past month, I have to think many of you are longing for those days when your primary concerns centered around whether Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton would created reason for encouragement during the Grapefruit League season.  Instead, you are now looking at this pitching staff and wondering if the new replay coordinator Horacio Ramirez still has a few innings left in his left arm.

That’s obviously wondered in jest.  Well kind of.  I mean…

Seriously we should have known we had entered the bizarro world when Mike Minor informed us that a Dec. 31 urinary tract procedure had caused him to remain inactive for a month, consequently putting him behind schedule at the beginning of Spring Training.

Mike Minor has had trouble urinating over the past two years and thus will not be ready to join Atlanta’s rotation until the latter portion of April.

While that sentence might be disturbing, odd and definitely unique, it is also much more pleasant to read or write than those countless sentences we wrote about Medlen and Beachy having to undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery for the second time in less than four years.

First and foremost, you feel for Medlen and Beachy who realize that there is a good chance they will not be the same even if they are fortunate to pitch at the big league level again.  At the same time, you have to wonder where this leaves the Braves as they enter this season with a four-man rotation that will consist of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Aaron Harang and either David Hale or Gus Schlosser.

The Braves will go to a five-man rotation when Ervin Santana is ready to enter this mix at some point during the regular season’s second week.  Then order might be further restored by April’s fourth week, when Minor and Gavin Floyd are expected to make their respective season debuts.

If Minor and Floyd stick to their projected path here is a breakdown of the number of starts that could be made by each Braves starting pitcher through the regular season’s first 20 games:  Teheran (5), Wood (4), Harang (4), Santana (3) Hale/Schlosser (3).

I used 20 games because there is a chance Floyd could return to start the 21st game on April 22.  Minor’s schedule would allow him to debut the next day.  While there will obviously be a need to do some shuffling, this at least gives you an idea of when the starting pitching staff could start looking whole again, IF everything goes according to plans, hopes, wishes and prayers.

While Floyd has drawn rave reviews from Bobby Cox and current members of the Braves coaching staff who have seen him throw bullpen and live batting practice sessions over the past few weeks, it should be remembered that he is coming off Tommy John surgery and thus will be subject to the inconsistencies that Adam Wainwright and so many other pitchers have experienced until they are closer to 18 months removed from the procedure.

Fortunately for Minor, he has gone more than a month without feeling the discomfort that briefly shelved him during the early portion of Spring Training.   If this encouraging trend continues, his return to the rotation will have a greater immediate impact than Floyd’s.

But as the Braves plan to limit Wood to 170-180 innings during what will be just his second professional season, Floyd’s presence will prove even more valuable as the season progresses and he moves further away from surgery.

So, if Teheran builds off his rookie success and Minor continues to be the top-flight hurler he has been since the second half of the 2012 season,  the Braves have two legitimate candidates to serve as the ace of a staff that should benefit from Santana’s steady hand.

If Wood’s rookie campaign was a sign of things to come, he like Santana will be a solid number three starter, who has the potential to occasionally match up with the game’s top starters.  And of course if Floyd returns in time to prevent the Braves from relying on Harang for more than a couple weeks, then manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell might get through this season with their sanity in tact.  <p>

Still as my Hall of Fame colleague Paul Hagen told me nearly a decade ago, “The more times you say the word ‘if” when talking about a team coming out of Spring Training, the more likely you’re going to see problems as the season progresses.”

So while the Braves have the makings to survive with a rotation that will not include Medlen and Beachy, it is hard to feel confident about a quintet that is  currently surrounded by so much uncertainty.

Before closing, I’d be remiss not to reminisce about one of the funnier events that transpired during Spring Training.

As the Braves prepared to play their Grapefruit League opener, Minor League reliever Juan Jaime asked Tigers first base coach Omar Vizquel to take  a picture with him.

A short time later Jaime went to the social media world and posted the picture with a caption that essentially read: “Me with my favorite player Roberto Alomar.”

Braves sign Aaron Harang

Hours after parting ways with Freddy Garcia, the Braves believe they found a better option in Aaron Harang.

Early Tuesday evening, a baseball executive confirmed the Braves are set to sign Harang. Terms of the agreement were not immediately revealed.

Harang compiled a 2.00 ERA while completing nine Cactus League innings for the Indians this year. But when he learned he would not begin the season in Cleveland’s starting rotation, he asked for and was granted his unconditional release.

In other words, Harang was essentially in the same position as Garcia, who was given his unconditional release shortly early Monday afternoon after the Braves informed him that he would not be on their Opening Day roster.

When Braves general manager Frank Wren explained the decision to release Garcia despite the fact that his club has limited pitching depth, he indicated he was close to landing what he believed would be a better option.

Harang, 35, has dealt with multiple injury woes that have robbed him of the arm strength he had when he spent the early portion of his career with the A’s and Reds. He posted a 5.40 ERA while combining for 26 starts with the Mets and Mariners last year.

Encouraged by the reports they received from scouts who saw Harang pitch this month in Arizona, the Braves opted to take a chance on the veteran right-hander with the hope he will provide quality depth until their injury-deplete starting rotation starts to become whole again over the next month.

The Braves will begin the season with a four-man starting rotation that will likely consist of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Harang and David Hale. A five-man rotation will be employed when the recently-signed Ervin Santana is ready to be activated during the regular season’s second week.

This rotation will be further fortified when Gavin Floyd and Mike Minor are deemed ready. Floyd and Minor are both aiming to join the rotation during April’s fourth week.


Braves cut into their already-thin depth by releasing Garcia

When Freddy Garcia signed a Minor League contract with the Braves in January, he seemingly stood as insurance for rotation that at the time was expected to include Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor.

But as the Braves prepare to open the upcoming season with a rotation that will be void of Medlen, Beachy and Minor, they have opted to take the gamble of cutting into their already-thin depth by cutting ties with Garcia.

Shortly after arriving at Champion Stadium early Monday afternoon, Garcia was surprised to learn the Braves had given him his unconditional release. The Braves had until Monday to inform Garcia whether he would be on Atlanta’s Opening Day roster.

Garcia’s Minor League contract provided him a guarantee of $1.25 million if he was ever placed on Atlanta’s roster. The 37-year-old veteran pitcher has spent the past six weeks repeatedly saying that he will not pitch at the Minor League level this year.

“I’ve got nothing to say,” Garcia said. “They made a decision and I’ve got to deal with that.”

There is a chance the Braves could acquire a starting pitcher within the next week. But as things currently stand, it appears they will open the season with a four-man rotation that consists of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, David Hale and Gus Schlosser.
Teheran, Wood, Hale and Schlosser have combined for 47 career starts. Teheran is the only member of this quartet who has made as many as 12 career starts.

The Braves plan to go to a five-man rotation when the recently-signed Ervin Santana is ready to be activated during the regular season’s second week. This rotation will be further fortified when Gavin Floyd and Mike Minor are deemed ready.

Floyd and Minor are currently projected to be join Atlanta’s rotation during April’s fourth week, when the Braves are a little more than 20 games into the 162-game season.

If Santanta, Floyd and Minor all remain on track, Garcia’s value would significant ly decrease by the end of April. But given that Medlen and Beachy have already been lost to season-ending elbow injuries, the Braves are seemingly taking a gamble by parting ways with Garcia and minimizing their already-thin starting pitching depth.

Garcia did not allow an earned run in three of his five Grapefruit League starts. After struggling in two consecutive outings, including the one he made while his wife was in labor, he limited the Mets to two hits and one unearned run over 5 1/3 innings on Sunday.

Schlosser, who has never pitched above the Double-A level, has provided some indication that he could be more effective than Garcia in the rotation. But given the limited amount of depth the Braves will have for at least the next three weeks, there was reason to wonder if the Braves would at least keep Garcia around by using him as a long reliever.



Medlen undergoes a second Tommy John surgery

After spending more than a week knowing it was inevitable, Braves Kris Medlen spent a portion of Tuesday afternoon undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery for the second time in less than four years.   

Dr. James Andrews has performed both of these surgeries on Medlen, who first underwent the procedure on Aug. 18, 2010.  Pitchers generally need at least 12 months to recover from this process.  Medlen’s timetable might be extended because this was the second time Andrews had to  perform this surgery, which replaces the elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament.

Medlen and Brandon Beachy left Braves camp on Sunday to travel to Pensacola in preparation of the evaluations Andrews made on Monday.  Beachy confirmed he did not receive a favorable prognosis.  But before undergoing his second Tommy John surgery in less than two years, the right-hander will first receive another opinion while visiting with Dr. Neal ElAttache in Los Angeles on Wednesday. 

Andrews also performed Beachy’s initial procedure in 2012. 

When Medlen received confirmation that he would need to undergo this surgery for a second time, he vowed that he will attempt to pitch at the Major League level again. 

“I approach this process with the same drive that I’ve had my entire life and will do everything I can to come back from this “thing” twice,” Medlen said. 

While the Braves have said they will evaluate the rehab protocols they have used for pitchers coming off of Tommy John surgery, Medlen has indicated he will likely have to alter his mechanics.  The 28-year-old right-hander knows that he puts extra strain on his elbow whenever he throws his changeup.  


Medlen thanks fans and confirms he plans to attempt to return from a second TJ surgery

Kris Medlen knew that he was destined for a second Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery as he walked off the mound during the fourth inning of his March 9 start against the Mets.  After enduring a wave of emotions for more than a week, Medlen received confirmation as he visited Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla. on Monday.

When asked for a comment, Medlen sent this message which thanks fans for their outpouring of support and also confirms that he plans to attempt to beat the odds that face any pitcher who has had to undergo this surgical procedure two times.


The news is obviously very tough but I knew when I walked off the mound mid inning what I had felt. The love and support I’ve felt from my family/teammates, (they go hand in hand), the Braves organization and braves fans everywhere really means the world to me and will definitely help me through all this. The part that blew me away this past week, were the comments and outreach that I received from other organizations, opponents, and the fans of baseball around the league. I’ve always tried to earn the respect of people based on myself as a person on and off the field and the response I’ve gotten after the last week is truly amazing. The same fans that curse at me while warming up in the opposing stadiums, reached out and let me know that they appreciate the way I play the game and that is just an unbelievable feeling. I approach this process with the same drive that I’ve had my entire life and will do everything I can to come back from this “thing” twice. Once, again thank you so much and Go Bravos!!!

Beachy could also be destined for a second Tommy John surgery

Two days after Kris Medlen confirmed he is likely destined to undergo a second Tommy John surgery, Brandon Beachy stood in the Braves clubhouse on Friday morning and indicated he is prepared to realize the same fate.  

Medlen and Beachy will both be evaluated by Dr. James Andrews on Monday. Results of tests performed this week have given both of these Braves pitchers no choice but to be prepared to undergo this elbow ligament replacement procedure for the second time in less than four years.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” Beachy said. “I’m really, really frustrated.  But there’s nothing I can do about it now.” 

Less than 24 hours after Medlen exited Sunday’s start against the Mets with an ailing elbow, Beachy lasted two innings in a start against the Phillies that was marred by tightness around his right elbow and biceps muscle.  He was told the discomfort was to be expected as he attempted to return from the two elbow surgeries he has undergone over the past 20 months.

But the images from an MRI exam and a stress X-ray performed earlier this week have indicate he has some damage around the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. 

“It wasn’t what I would have liked it to have been,”  Beachy said of the results. “I was pretty confident when I left the game on Monday.  That was based on what I was told. I was being honest.  Now it looks like it might be something else.  It’s frustrating, very frustrating.” 

Updated: Braves sign Santana to a one-year deal

Ervin Santana has signed a one-year contract with the Braves.  The veteran hurler will be introduced during a press conference that is set to begin around 8:30 a.m. ET.

The Braves gained interest in Santana when Kris Medlen exited Sunday’s Grapefruit League start with a potential season-ending elbow injury.  That interest increased on Monday when Brandon Beachy exited his start because of tightness around his right elbow and biceps muscle.

Santana rejuvenated his career last year as he went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA for the Royals.  The 31-year-old right-hander had drawn interest from the Orioles, Blue Jays and Twins earlier this week.

Santana’s addition gives the Braves reason to feel better about their suddenly injury-decimated rotation.  Without him, Atlanta would have entered the season with a rotation that consisted of Julio Teheran, Freddy Garcia, Alex Wood and David Hale.

Medlen will be further evaluated before learning whether surgery is necessary

Kris Medlen realizes he has not completely escaped the danger zone.  But for now, he can at least continue hoping to avoid undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery for the second time in four years.   <p>

Results of an MRI exam performed on Monday show some damage around the ulnar collateral ligament in Medlen’s elbow.  But Braves manager Frank Wren said Medlen will undergo further evaluation before it is determine the significance of the damage.  <p>

“The MRI does show some involvement with the ligament,” Wren said. “We don’t know the extent yet.  He’s going to have continued test and he’s probably going to have a second opinion.  So for us to put  a complete diagnosis on it now would be premature.”   <p>

Medlen’s MRI results were complicated by the fact it is hard to produce a clear image of the ligament after a pitcher has already undergone one Tommy John surgery.   <p>

“MRIs on previous Tommy John (patients) are not as clear and not as precise,” Wren said. “I think that is why you have to do a little more evaluation.”

Medlen was preparing to speak to the media on Tuesday when  the Braves medical staff learned an opportunity had arisen for him to undergo another evaluation.  Consequently, Medlen had to leave before expressing his thoughts regarding this update.  <p>

Wren said he expects Medlen to be evaluated by Dr. James Andrews later this week.  Andrews performed Tommy John surgery on Medlen on Aug. 18, 2010.  <p>

Santana is a longshot, but the Braves are evaluating all options

While Kris Medlen undergoes an MRI exam today, the Braves have to prepare themselves for the possibility that Medlen will be sidelined for an extended period.

Even if Medlen is fortunate enough to learn he can avoid undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery for the second time in four years, it does not appear he is dealing with an ailment that could sideline him for just a couple weeks.

As soon as Medlen walked off the mound holding his elbow during Sunday’s fourth inning against the Mets, fans began asking whether the Braves would jump into the Ervin Santana sweepstakes.  Initially, it seemed hard to believe the Braves would have the available funds to bid for Santana, who has reportedly received three-year offers from the Orioles and Twins worth somewhere between $27-33 million.

There is also the fact that the Braves are in the process of attempting to strengthen their top prospect crop, which is currently pitching-heavy.  Signing Santana would cost Atlanta its first-round selection (26th overall) in June’s First-Year Player Draft.  In compensation for losing Brian McCann via free agency, the Braves have already gained the 32nd overall selection, which would allow the opportunity to select a player comparable to what would be available six picks earlier.

Given the financial and draft pick costs, the Braves have reason to be reluctant to pursue a 31-year-old pitcher, who went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA while benefiting from Kansas City’s strong defense last year.  But for now, it does not appear the Braves have completely ruled out the possibility of pursuing Santana.

While Santana is a possibility, the Braves are more likely to begin the season with a starting rotation that consists of Brandon Beachy, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Freddy Garcia.  Two early offdays allow the club to work with a four-man rotation until April 12.   Mike Minor, who was slowed by shoulder discomfort during the early days of camp, believes he will be ready to join the rotation around that same date.

Beachy is scheduled to pitch four innings this afternoon while working on the same mound from which he tossed three scoreless innings against the Phillies last week.   As we get closer to the regular season, Beachy will continue to increase his effort level and throw more breaking balls.  His fastball velocity during his first two exhibition season outings has sat between 88-91 mph.  According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity was 92 mph in 2011 and 91 in 2012, the year he underwent Tommy John surgery.


Heyward 9

B.J. Upton 8

Freeman 3

Justin Upton 7

Doumit DH

Johnson 5

Uggla 4

Laird 2

Greene 6

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