Thoughts from Monday night’s loss
While many of you might still be stewing about the reversal of the challenge that seemingly should not have been permitted, the most influential development from Monday night’s 11-inning loss was the reminder that the Braves simply can’t rely on Luis Avilan like they did last year. So with the Trade Deadline just a few weeks away, we are left to believe acquiring a left-handed reliever remains high on general manager Frank Wren’s wish list.
When Avilan was not given a chance to complete the decisive seventh inning of an April 10 loss against the Mets, I questioned why manager Fredi Gonzalez did not allow the left-hander to prove he could still get right-handed hitters out like he had in the past. As the next couple of weeks passed and Avilan’s struggles grew, there was reason for me to tell Gonzalez, “I guess you were right on that one.”
I doubt there will come a point where I’ll be saying the same about last night’s decision to allow Avilan to protect the one-run lead the Braves gained in the top half of the eighth inning. The Mets sent a right-hander (Ruben Tejada), a switch hitter (Eric Young Jr.) and two left-handed hitters to the plate to face Avilan. After retiring the first two batters he faced, the Braves’ southpaw allowed Curtis Granderson to send a game-tying homer over the right field wall.
Walden, who has limited left-handed hitters to one hit in 21 at-bats dating back to June 15, ended the inning and kept the game tied by striking out David Wright.
While Walden will surely be used in these situations in the future, there is also reason to wonder how much faith the Braves can still have in Avilan, who has not looked anything like the guy he was when he produced a 1.52 ERA in a career-high 75 appearances last year. On the way to producing this impressive mark, he limited right-handed hitters to a .202 batting average and .292 on-base percentage. Left-handers hit .144 with a .219 on-base percentage against him.
This year, right-handers have batted .314 with a .397 on-base percentage against Avilan. Lefties have batted .266 with a .344 on-base percentage. One scout suggested that Avilan looks like a guy who “doesn’t want to break” like some of the other members of the Braves bullpen have over the past couple of years. But per FanGraphs, his fastball velocity is actually up a tick (from 93.5 to 93.6 mph) and his curveball velo is down just one mile per hour, from 75.8 to .74.8.
Regardless of what the issue is, the Braves have seen enough to know there is a need to fortify their bullpen with another left-handed reliever. Those of you wondering when Jonny Venters will return would be wise to simply root for the feel-good possibility of this story. There was never any guarantee Venters would return from a second Tommy John surgery. But there was always definite reason to doubt he would ever again resemble the dominant reliever he was before his elbow blew out during the 2012 season.
So while everyone will be pulling for Venters to beat the odds by pitching at the big league level again, the Braves will be searching to upgrade their bullpen with a left-hander. At the same time, with memories of Scott Downs fresh in their memories, they will be cognizant of the fact that this is not the safest of markets to shop.
It will be interesting to see how influential the eighth inning RBI single Jason Heyward recorded on Monday night proves to be. Three pitches before slapping a curveball to center field, he had ducked away from a Josh Edgin fastball that was approaching his head. Adding to the resulting uncomfort was the fact that he was standing in the same batter’s box where his left jaw had been fractured a little more than 10 months earlier.
Heyward’s single off Edgin snapped an 0-for-37 skid against left-handed pitchers. As this futile stretch extended, there was reason to wonder if he was dealing with the lingering effects of last year’s traumatic experience. But now that he has ended the drought at the scene of the crime, maybe he has slayed that mental monster that has affected so many others who have been hit in the head with a pitch.