No need for the Braves to attempt to upgrade rotation via the thin trade market

As Brandon Beachy labored through last night’s outing against the Rockies on Monday night, it became more apparent why before losing Tim Hudson last week,  the Braves were at least contemplating the option of allowing Beachy to make one more Minor League rehab start.

Beachy’s bid to become one of the few pitchers who have ever encountered a smooth return from Tommy John surgery quickly evaporated as he allowed seven earned runs and eight hits in just 3 2/3 innings.  All was not lost as he displayed his normal velocity  –  his fastball rested between 91-92 mph  –  and exited this 84-pitch outing healthy.

But when Beachy makes his next start on Saturday against the Phillies, the Braves can only hope that he displays more consistency with his slider and simply looks more comfortable than he did while making his first big league start in over a year last night.

Beachy’s less-than impressive effort did not seemingly alter the Braves plan to stay away from the less-than-impressive starting pitching market that exists leading up to tomorrow afternoon’s Trade Deadline.  The potential cost of landing Jake Peavy remains far too steep and as has been mentioned multiple times over the past few days the Braves never had contact with the Royals regarding Ervin Santana, who is expected to stay in Kansas City.

After losing Hudson, the Braves did their due diligence and at least discussed the possibility of attempting to land a frontline starting pitcher.  Peavy and Santana were the only pitchers that even piqued their interest.

As the Braves evaluate the potential makeup of their starting rotation for the remainder of this season, they will certainly have great interest in how Alex Wood performs against the Rockies tonight.  Wood has totaled 7 1/3 innings in his only two previous Major League starts.  But it’s not necessarily fair to judge him on those outings  — both against the Mets.

Wood’s June 18 start came three weeks after he had left Double-A Mississippi’s rotation to join Atlanta’s bullpen.  His four-inning performance at Citi Field last week was just the third start (Major League and Minor League combined) that he had made since late May.   Had Paul Maholm not injured his wrist five days earlier, Wood might have had a chance to make at least two starts with Triple-A Gwinnett before making his return to the Majors.

If Wood proves effective tonight, and again on Sunday in Philadelphia, the Braves might at least gain some confidence that he would be capable of filling a rotation spot if necessary during the regular season’s final two months.  But with the expectation that Maholm will be ready to rejoin the rotation on Monday, Wood might spend the next couple of weeks either in Atlanta’s bullpen or Gwinnett’s rotation.

Yeah, I know that I am the one who has indicated the possibility that Wood could replace Kris Medlen in the starting rotation.  That was simply a product of the reporting process.  Those were not my thoughts alone and it was a mindset that was developed before the Braves lost Hudson’s veteran presence from their rotation.

Medlen provided some signs of encouragement as he displayed improved fastball command while limiting the Cardinals to two earned runs in six innings on Sunday night.  This year has been a battle from the start for the ever-competitive Medlen, who has simply not found the form that enabled him to post a 0.97 ERA in the 12 starts he made after joining the rotation at this time last year.

Still it is hard to ignore the fact that Medlen has posted the fourth-best ERA (2.63) among all qualified Major League starting pitchers dating back to July 31, 2012.  The only pitchers who rank in front of him are Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey and Bartolo Colon.

There is certainly reason to wonder if Beachy will gain his previous dominant form before the start of next season.  But regardless of how he fares, the Braves already possess the pieces to form a rotation that can preserve the club’s comfortable lead atop the National League East standings and also prove competitive once the postseason arrives.

Those who have pushed for the Braves to upgrade their starting rotation have asked if the team would feel comfortable pitting either Julio Teheran or Mike Minor against Kershaw in the first game of a postseason series.  To this I ask, how many pitchers would actually fit this bill?  Regardless of who you chose to put in this select list, he is not available on this year’s thin trade market.

To play off Rick Pitino’s famous line during his days with the Boston Celtics, “John Smoltz is not walking through that door fans. Tom Glavine is not walking through that door and Greg Maddux is not walking through that door.  And if you expect them to walk through that door, they’re going to be grey and old.”

T

 

Braves acquire Downs from the Angels

The Braves got the left-handed reliever they have been seeking when they acquired Scott Downs from the Angels in exchange for right-handed Minor League pitcher Cory Rasmus early Monday afternoon.

Downs has compiled a 1.84 ERA in 43 appearances for the Angels this season.  The 37-year-old southpaw has limited left-handed hitters to a .196 batting average and .255 on-base percentage.  Right-handed hitters have batted .286 with a .385 on-base percentage against him.

Braves general manager Frank Wren’s focus over the past few weeks has been to improve the depth of his bullpen.  With the acquisition of Downs, he has gained a veteran reliever who is capable of reducing the workload top setup men Luis Avilan and Jordan Walden incur during the regular season’s final two months.

Downs is owed approximately $1.6 million over the remainder of this season. He is in the final year of a three-year contract.

Rasmus has compiled a  1.37 ERA in 37 relief appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett this season.  The 25-year-old right-hander made his only three Major League appearances with the Braves earlier this year.  He allowed six earned runs and eight hits, including four homers, in the 6 2/3 innings that encompassed those three appearances.

Peavy, Santana among the starting pitchers drawing interest from the Braves

Since losing Tim Hudson to a season-ending ankle injury on Wednesday night, the Braves have widened their focus on the trade market.  While enhancing the bullpen’s depth, preferably with a left-handed reliever, still appears to be the priority, the club is now looking at the possibility of acquiring a front-line starting pitcher to fill Hudson’s void.

Braves general manager Frank Wren and his scouts will spend the next few days evaluating the small group of available starting pitchers who could legitimately upgrade the rotation.  Instead of pursuing a middle-of the-rotation piece like Bud Norris, the club’s interest in this department is focused on the likes of Jake Peavy and Ervin Santana.

The Braves had a scout present to watch Peavy throw 118 pitches and complete seven innings against the Tigers on Thursday.  This outing seemed to diminish any fears about the lingering effects of the fractured right rib that sidelined the White Sox right-hander from June 5-July 20.

Peavy is owed $4.8 million for the remainder of this year.  The 32-year-old Alabama native’s contract also includes a $14.5 million salary for 2014 and a $15 million vesting player option for 2015.  All indications are that the Braves are financially in position to make this deal.

While trading Santana would diminish the odds of the Royals achieving their goal of recording a winning season, the club understands the future benefits that could be realized by trading the 30-year-old right-hander, who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

While the Braves do not seem to have any interest in Yovani Gallardo, they might ask the Brewers about Kyle Lohse, who has compiled a 2.49 ERA in the 11 starts he has made since the end of May.

Braves continue their search for relievers

Like many clubs, the Braves are still hoping to strengthen their bullpen before next week’s Trade Deadline.  But while they are evaluating a number of relievers, it does not appear they currently have a specific target.

The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers seems to believe the Braves are the favorites to land Jesse Crain from the White Sox if the All-Star reliever comes off the disabled list within the next week and provides indication that his right shoulder is healthy.  Rogers expressed this sentiment early Tuesday morning while on The Mully And Hanley Show on Chicago’s 670 The Score.

If he is healthy, Crain would arguably be the best reliever available and there is no doubt the Braves have definite interest in the 32-year-old reliever, who is in the final year of a three-year contract.  He has posted a 0.74 ERA and limited opponents to a .287 on-base percentage in 38 appearances.  But there is certainly reason to be cautious with any pitcher dealing with a shoulder ailment.

The Braves are still hoping left-hander Alex Wood proves effective enough to remain in the starting rotation throughout the remainder of this season.  Brandon Beachy is also expected to rejoin Atlanta’s rotation next week.  The expected additions of Wood and Beachy continue to fuel the belief that Kris Medlen could be moved to the bullpen within the next week.

With Medlen and Jordan Walden, the Braves would have two right-handed relievers who can neutralize left-handed hitters with their changeup.  But there still seems to be a desire to add a left-handed reliever.

The Angels’ Scott Downs, the Cubs’ James Russell and the Brewers’ Mike Gonzalez are among the left-handed relievers who have all drawn some form of interest from Atlanta’s brass.

But it appears Downs, who is in the final year of his three-year contract, and Russell, who is in the midst of his first arbitration-eligible season, rank above Gonzalez on the Braves’ wish list.

Maholm’s injury could affect Beachy, Wood and Medlen

Last week, there was some speculation that Alex Wood could move  into Kris Medlen’s rotation spot as early as Tuesday, when Medlen is scheduled to start against the Mets.  But that plan has seemingly been altered by the uncertainty surrounding Paul Maholm’s injured left pitching wrist.

Maholm visited Dr. Gary Lourie in Atlanta this morning and the specific details of his injury will be announced later this afternoon.  There is a chance he suffered a small fracture that was not visible on the initial X-ray performed once he left his start against the White Sox on Saturday.  Or there’s a chance the veteran left-hander could be dealing with some kind of strain.  We’ll find out soon enough.

Whatever the case, the current indications are that he is dealing with an ailment that should force him to miss at least one start  –  he is scheduled to oppose the Mets on Thursday.   Even if Maholm says he can pitch through the discomfort, the Braves will likely take the cautious route.

The two obvious candidates to pitch in Maholm’s place would be Wood or Brandon Beachy, who has made three starts since beginning a second Minor League rehab stint earlier this month.   While Wood would be pitching on two extra days of rest, Beachy would enter the start with just one extra day.

After throwing 70 pitches in five innings against Indianapolis on Friday, Beachy threw an additional 15 pitches in the bullpen.   While he is seemingly conditioned to attempt to pitch past the fifth, you have to wonder if it would be wise for the Braves to simply allow Beachy to make one more rehab start before making his return from Tommy John surgery.

This decision regarding Beachy could be influenced by the fact that right elbow inflammation prevented him from making his return after he made what was supposed to be the final start of his first Minor League rehab stint last month.  But the situation seems completely different this time.  Beachy has since admitted that he was feeling elbow discomfort during each of the three rehab starts he made in June.

Wood has made just one start since the Braves sent him down to Triple-A Gwinnnett last week to prepare to join Atlanta’s rotation within the next week or two.   The rookie southpaw threw 71 pitches in the five innings he completed on Thursday night against Indianapolis.   He also threw 57 pitches while completing 3 2/3 innings in relief of Medlen during a July 12 loss against Cincinnati.

After Medlen allowed four earned runs and nine hits in just four innings against the Reds that night, multiple sources indicated they would not be surprised if Wood assumed Medlen’s spot in the rotation as early as tomorrow.   While that could still happen, it would seem more sensible to rush just one of the two starters  –  Beachy or Wood  –  into the Atlanta rotation this week.

So if Wood is going to make a start this week for Atlanta, it seems more likely that he will get the call on Thursday.   This also would provide Medlen another chance to give the club a chance to prove he can still be just as valuable in the rotation as he would be in the bullpen.

 

 

Gonzalez, Russell among the relievers on Atlanta’s wish list

Over the past couple months, it has been apparent the Braves will attempt to gain bullpen depth before the July 31 Trade Deadline.  But with all indications that Alex Wood will join Atlanta’s starting rotation before the end of the month, it now appears the team’s specific priority is to add a left-handed reliever.

The Cubs’ James Russell, the Brewers’ Mike Gonzalez and the Astros’ Wesley Wright are among the left-handed relievers on general manager Frank Wren’s wish list.   While Wright is considered a candidate, it appears the Braves are more interested in the possibility of dealing for either Russell or Gonzalez.

With Wood currently preparing to make one or two Minor League starts before returning to the Majors, Luis Avilan stands as the only left-handed reliever in Atlanta’s bullpen.  Avilan has proven himself as a valuable setup man.  But the 24-year-old southpaw has already made a professional-high 43 appearances and his 3.38 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is not nearly as comforting as his 1.40 ERA.

There is reason to believe Wood could replace Kris Medlen in the rotation and if this proves to be true, Medlen would likely be moved back to a relief role.  Like Jordan Walden, Medlen would serve as a right-handed relief option, whose changeup has provided him success against left-handed hitters.

Still the Braves would like to add a left-handed presence to their bullpen.  Russell, who is currently in his first arbitration-eligible season,  has limited left-handed hitters to a .189 batting average and .218 on-base percentage.   Right-handed hitters have hit .316 and compiled a .400 on-base percentage against him.

Gonzalez, who served formerly served as a closer in Atlanta,  has proven to be more versatile.  Right-handed hitters have hit .233 with a .361 on-base percentage against him.  Left-handed hitters have batted .257 with a .325 on-base percentage against him. The 35-year-old veteran would be a free agent at the end of this season.

The Braves are also looking for a backup infielder to fill the void created when switch-hitter Ramiro Pena was forced to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery last month.  Paul Janish is more than capable of providing solid defense in this role.  But the club would like to find a better offensive option, preferably one that can hit from the left side of the plate.

McCann added to NL’s All-Star roster

Braves catcher Brian McCann received a nice surprise late Sunday afternoon when Major League Baseball announced he would replace his teammate Freddie Freeman on this year’s National League All-Star roster.

This is the seventh career All-Star selection for McCann, who entered Sunday hitting .291 with 12 home runs and a .910 OPS.  His addition to the NL roster came when Freeman was deemed unavailable because of a left thumb injury he suffered in the first inning of Saturday’s game against the Reds.

When given a chance to replace Freeman, NL manager Bruce Bochy chose McCann because he wanted to carry a third catcher on his roster.  Buster Posey will start the game and Yadier Molina were the only two catchers originally selected.  Molina has recently been bothered by inflammation in his right knee.

Life outside of Atlanta continues to be cruel for the Braves

After the Braves lost yet another road game to conclude this past weekend’s three-game series against the Phillies on Sunday, I asked Fredi Gonzalez and some of his players if they had a theory to explain why they have produced such contrasting results at home and on the road for most of this season.

“I’ve got my own ideas and theories,” Kris Medlen said.  “It’s just one of those things.  It’s baseball.”

Maybe Medlen will eventually elaborate on these “ideas” and “theories” he has developed.  But for now, it seems like most of us are baffled by this trend that has truly become one of those oddities often encountered during a long baseball season.

Since winning each of their first seven road games this year, the Braves have lost 25 of the 39 that have followed.  During this same stretch that dates back to an April 19 loss in Pittsburgh, they have won 23 of the 34 games played at Turner Field.

“I don’t have any theory on it other than you hit first on the road and wear a different color uniform,” Gonzalez said.  “Other than that, maybe it’s just one of those things.  When you look at the stats packs and sometimes on Wednesdays we don’t play well or on Wednesdays or that kind of stuff.  Maybe the second half of the season we’ll start playing better.  To win divisions and to win championships, championship teams have to play well both at home and on the road.”

Considering how bad they have been on the road for more than two months, the Braves are quite fortunate to still have a four-game lead over the second-place Nationals in the National League East race. Their first-place status has come as a result of the fact that they have won 21 of the 29 games played in Atlanta dating back to May 5.  During this same stretch, they have lost 18 of 30 on the road.

“I can’t put my finger on it,” Brian McCann said. “We’ve played really good baseball at home and obviously we need to start playing better on the road.  But I don’t think there is one thing I can point to.”

Fortunately the baseball world allows us a chance to attempt to explain the unexplainable through numbers. But as you will see, a look at the splits produced since the 13-2 start are as contrasting as the team’s record.

Since the road woes began on April 19, the Braves have produced a slash line of .240/.310/.392 (batting average/ on-base percentage/slugging percentage) and averaged 3.9 runs per game.   Their pitchers have compiled a 4.46 ERA during this 39-game stretch.

During the home games played in this same span, the Braves have produced a slash line of .262/.342/.413 and averaged 4.6 runs per game.  Their pitchers have compiled a 2.26 ERA during this 34-game stretch.

It is interesting to look at the difference in the home/road OPS numbers produced by Braves players over the course of the past 73 games (dating back to April 19):

HOME

Freddie Freeman  .974

Brian McCann .930

Chris Johnson  .821

Jason Heyward .727

B.J. Upton .700

Andrelton Simmons .669

Dan Uggla .630

Justin Upton  .523

ROAD

McCann .921

Uggla  .871

Justin Upton .816

Chris Johnson .782

Heyward  .774

Freeman  .691

Simmons .659

B.J. Upton  .450

So Uggla and Justin Upton rank as the least productive offensive contributors at home and the two most productive contributors on the road during this span. McCann is has been consistently great both at home and on the road. The splits produced by Heyward, Johnson and Simmons are also pretty consistent.

These split contrasts are not restricted to the offensive end.   Here is a look at the home/road ERAs produced by the starting pitchers during this same span.

HOME

Julio Teheran  1.79

Paul Maholm 2.20

Tim Hudson 2.52

Medlen 3.00

Mike Minor 4.30

ROAD

Minor 2.96

Teheran 3.23

Medlen 4.62

Hudson 5.71

Maholm  6.70

Minor will look to extend his road success when the Braves open a three-game series tonight at Marlins Park, which is where the Braves claimed the first of those seven straight road wins to open the season.

If this week’s return to Miami allows the Braves to end their frustrating road woes, maybe Medlen will be willing to expound on his theories.  But for now, we’re all left to attempt to explain the unexplainable.

 

 

 

 

Hudson pushed back to Saturday

Tim Hudson will have to wait one additional day to attempt to end a winless streak that dates back to May 10.

Hudson was scheduled to start Friday night’s series opener against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.  But approximately four hours before the start of the game, the Braves announced Paul Maholm would start in his place.   Hudson will now start Saturday night’s game.

While Maholm will be making his start on regular rest, Hudson will have two extra days of rest heading into Saturday’s start.

Hudson threw 100 pitches while completing 5 2/3 innings against the D-backs on Saturday.  All indications are that this decision was simply made to provide the veteran right-hander a chance to get one extra day of rest.

Hudson expressed his displeasure when he was pulled last Saturday after surrendering a game-tying home run to the D-backs’ A.J. Pollock with two outs in the sixth inning.  He felt he should have been given a chance to record the final out and remain in line for a potential win.

The frustration was influenced by the fact Hudson has gone 0-6 with a 4.50 ERA in the 10 starts he has made since last earning a win on May 5.   He compiled a 2.45 ERA in his six June starts.

Terdoslavich receives his first call to the Majors

Joey Terdoslavich received a nice surprise late Wednesday night, when the Braves informed him he would be making the rise to the Major League level.

The Braves purchased Terdoslavich’s contract from Triple-A Gwinnett after placing Jordan Schafer on the disabled list with a right ankle contusion on Thursday morning.

Terdoslavich, who has never previously been called to the big leagues, is expected to be in uniform for Thursday night’s scheduled game against the Marlins at Turner Field.

Schafer has had limited mobility since fouling a pitch off his ankle last week on June 26 in Kansas City.  The versatile outfielder has favored his right leg while running to first base during the two pinch hit plate appearances he has made the past two nights. Swelling around his Achilles has prevented him from being available to play the field.

Terdoslavich has the ability to play both corner outfield positions and his presence as a switch hitter strengthens Atlanta’s bench.  The 24-year-old prospect has opened some eyes while hitting .318 with 18 home runs and a .926 OPS in 85 games with Triple-A Gwinnett.

The Braves have been working with a weakened bench since Evan Gattis was placed on the disabled list with an oblique strain on June 18.  Terdoslavich could provide some of the power that has been absent while Gattis has continued to deal with this injury.

The Braves will need to create a spot on their 40-man roster for Terdoslavich.

Terdoslavich was one of the two Braves’ prospects selected to participate in this year’s Futures Game, which will be held at Citi Field on July 14.  But he will obviously not compete if he is still at the Major League level when the game is played next weekend.

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