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.”

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.

MEDLEN’S RESPONSE: 

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.

TODAY’S LINEUP:

Heyward 9

B.J. Upton 8

Freeman 3

Justin Upton 7

Doumit DH

Johnson 5

Uggla 4

Laird 2

Greene 6

UPDATED: Medlen exits with a right forearm strain

 

When Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez delayed announcing his Opening Day starter in case an injury altered his plan, he was not necessarily preparing himself to deal with an ailment as serious as the one Kris Medlen appeared to incur while pitching against the Mets on Sunday afternoon.  

 

Medlen exited the game in the fourth inning with what the Braves are currently describing as a right forearm strain.  When the veteran right-hander undergoes further evaluation on Monday, he can only hope to learn he will not have to undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery for the second time in less than four years. 

 

Medlen walked directly toward the dugout after throwing his second pitch to Matt Clark with two outs in the fourth inning.  He had grabbed his elbow after throwing his first pitch to Clark during this same plate appearance. 

 

Unfortunately, Medlen’s reaction was similar to the one he had when he exited a start against the Mets on Aug. 4, 2010.  He underwent Tommy John surgery two weeks later and then endured a long rehab process that sidelined him until the final week of the 2011 regular season. 

 

With Tim Hudson now with the Giants, Medlen entered this season as the obvious choice to serve as Atlanta’s Opening Day starter.  The Braves might now enter the upcoming season with both Medlen and Mike Minor on the disabled list. 

 

Minor reported to Spring Training behind scheduled because of the month-long stretch of inactivity he experienced after undergoing a urinary tract procedure on Dec. 31.  He began throwing off a mound again last week and is still hoping to be ready to join Atlanta’s rotation by the end of the regular season’s second week. 

 

If Minor and Medlen are both sidelined at the beginning of the season, Atlanta could open the season with a starting rotation that consists of Brandon Beachy, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Freddy Garcia. 

 

Courtesy of two early scheduled offdays, the Braves could use a four-man rotation until April 12.  If Minor continues to progress like he has over the past couple of weeks, he would likely be ready to join the rotation at that time. 

 

 

 

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