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 MLB.com 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.”

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