Injury Bug Biting The Braves Hard


A Healthy Jason Heyward Has Been A Rare Sight. Photo Courtesy of Tim Evearitt

Hello again everyone from suddenly quite beautiful southeast Michigan, where the skies are sunny and the mercury is expected to rise to the 80 range again today.

The report on the injury front for the Braves is not very sunny right now, though. In a very short period of time, the team has gone from almost injury-free to injury riddled.

The latest injury news involves two-thirds of the team’s starting outfield. Jason Heyward has been moved to the 15 day disabled list with inflamation in his right (non-throwing) shoulder. As you may recall, the Braves initially tried a cortisone injection and a few days rest for the shoulder. At first it appeared to have worked, but Heyward re-aggravated the shoulder in batting practice on Friday. Since the MRI the Braves performed on the shoulder showed only inflamation and showed no signs of structural damage, the best guess is that the Braves will prescribe 15 days of rest along with treatment with anti-inflamatories and physical therapy, and hope that nature takes care of the problem. I’d also recommend that another MRI be run, as history has shown that it is easy for small problems to be missed by the technology. Regardless, Heyward had been useless this month, with more strikeouts (15) than hits (4). Let’s hope this is the last in a string of injuries for Heyward.

Nate McLouth strained an oblique muscle on a checked swing in first at-bat on Sunday. This is new ground for McLouth, who says that his only previous experience with the injury was a very slight strain suffered years ago. Oblique injuries were almost never reported until a few years ago (likely they were called something else). Chipper Jones became almost the poster child for the problem, which seems to happen to players with good physiques, usually the result of violent checked swings. Nate declined to speculate on the severity of the problem, but if our experience with Chipper is any indication, McLouth is likely headed to the DL as well.

I think it’s appropriate to mention the small meniscus tear in Chipper Jones’ right knee as part of this discussion. It seems that Chipper is intent on trying to play through the injury, relying on cortisone to relieve the pain and inflamation. With the injuries to McLouth and Heyward, my guess is that Chipper will be more entrenched in his position. The risk here is twofold: First, there is a real possibility that he could injure the knee further, turning a relatively minor problem into a really big one. Second, Chipper has not been the same player since the knee started bothering him signficantly. Those of us watching every night can tell that both the timing and intensity of his swing, especially from the left side, is way off. The numbers back up the observation, as he’s hit just .231 with only one homer in his last ten games. He has walked eight times in that span, as he’s the only player focused on reaching base that way, even allowing for his penchant for first-pitch swinging. A week ago I would have been in favor of the surgery and the two to three weeks of lost service. As things stand now, I guess I’d be in favor of rolling the dice until we have either McLouth or Heyward back.

Turning to the pitching side of things, the injury bug has been hard at work here as well. While Peter Moylan‘s injury was significant, the latest blows have come to the starting pitchers. First, Brandon Beachy, who was pitching like a number one starter, went down with a (are you ready for this) strained left oblique muscle. Now Tim Hudson is suffering with a stiff back he encountered in one of the worst starts of his career last week against the Astros (he allowed eight runs in 3 and 2/3 innings). While Hudson insisted he would do everything possible to make his next start, the Braves stepped in and made the decision for him. Mike Minor will be called up to make Hudson’s next start and likely one more spot start covering for Beachy’s injury. Minor has been effective in Gwinnett, going 2-2 with a 2.56 ERA in eight starts there. He’s also struck out more than a batter an inning, all while working on his off-speed pitches. My guess is that his numbers would be even better if putting up the best stats possible was his primary objective, rather than emphasizing more the things he needs to inprove to be effective in the majors.

Switching to the Braves reactions to these problems, in a somewhat surprising move, the Braves purchased the contract of Wilkin Ramirez from Gwinnett. Ramirez brings both power and speed to the team (he had seven homers and six stolen bases for Gwinnett). Unfortunately, his .294 OBP will fit right in with the Braves .309 team OBP). To make room for Ramirez on the 40 man roster, Moylan was moved to the 60 day DL from the 15 day DL. To make room for Minor on the 25 man roster, it is expected that the Braves will return one of their relievers to the minors, as they have effectively been carrying an extra reliever the past few days. My guess is that Ascencio will be returned to Gwinnett.

It looks to me like the Braves are prepared to go to war with an outfield of Ramirez/Hinske, Mather, and Prado. Hopefully Mather can continue his hot hitting and Hinske will not wear down as he did last year. Being optimistic, Ramirez also brings a cannon of an arm to the game, replacing the pea-shooter that McLouth brings. I’d expect that Mather will play center field, though that could change.

While these band-aids will hopefully work, it sure seems like it’s time to work a trade for a front line outfielder. Hunter Pence would be a good fit, though as Fred Owens points out, may be harder to acquire with the change in ownership of the Astros. Maybe the Twins would be amenable to a deal for Delmon Young (arbitration eligible after this season, a free agent in 2013) or Jason Kubel (who would be a free agent after this season, so effectively a rental). The Twins are out of contention and have too many quality bats to fit into their OF/DH rotation (see this article on our sister site, Pucket’s Pond, for more detail).

So, that’s my take. Anyone else have suggestions?

Tags: Atlanta Braves Brandon Beachy Braves Chipper Jones Frank Wren Fredi Gonzalez Jason Heyward Martin Prado Mike Minor Nate Mclouth Peter Moylan Tim Hudson

  • BC Clemmons

    The Braves will definitely have to do some work on the roster.I am not sure which option would be best.I guess if push came to shove I would try to get a regular outfielder.I see Chipper going until his knee gives out for good(I would hope he would get it fixed now, but its doubtful that will happen).Let’s be honest,Jason Heyward will probably never be a 160 game player, I would say he will be a fine 130-140 game player, every year there will be an issue with him.This is not a knock,it is what it is…It will be interesting which way the organization decides to go.

  • Fred Owens

    Ramirez has always been able to hit but there was concern about his strikeout rate and his fielding. Withe Detroit’s minor league teams he had a 35.5% K rate last year. Miraculously when he moved to the Braves that dropped to 22.6%. Of course it was only 24 games. This year he’s at about 21% (27 in 33 games)and with 7 homers and 16 RBI that’s okay. He also has 6 steals – one less than the whole Atlanta team – so that’s a plus.
    In the past his fielding has been a question mark in spite of his big arm. There’s no way to know how that’s gone as fielding percentage (.980) is only about balls he gets to. He has one error and 2 assists for what that’s worth. I suspect he’s a direct Jason replacement.
    Jason Kubel is having a bounce back year after a dismal 2010 and would be a a great pickup with two caveats. First he’s left handed. Normally that’s a hell yea but with everyone except we’re heavily left handed now. He is hitting .291 against lefties this year but that’s 14 hits in 61 at bats so not a big sample. Career he hits .241`The other thing what they would want for him. I suspect he’s be expensive in terms of prospects. Michael Cuddyer is having a slightly down year compared to 2010 however he is right handed, can play 1st, 2nd, 3rd and the outfield and would probably be cheaper in terms of prospects as he seems to have fallen out of favor a bit with Gardy. Delmon Young can’t hit a lick and shouldn’t be discussed in the same terms as the other two.
    I like Cuddyer personally because he’s more versatile sand right handed.
    But, what do I know?

  • Bob Horton

    Great thoughts Fred and BC!

    I think you may be right about Heyward. The really scary thing is how much his production has slipped since the thumb injury. Without looking up the specifics, his OPS has gone from over 1.000 to less than .800. Wow!

    Cuddyer or Pence or Kubel would work for me at this point!

    Bob

  • Robert Glenn Plotner

    I agree with Fred regarding Cuddyer. Personally my wish list includes Michael Bourn (unfortunately lefthanded) and Andrew McCutchen. The team needs some speed to gain some mobility in the lineup, a number one or two place hitter. If they can create a package, say with a Mike Minor, it would be nice to land a young CF who can get on base and run.

  • Bob Horton

    Hey Robert!

    Personally, I like Bourn more than McCutchen, but that’s based mainly on what I’ve seen on MLB.com. At this point, I think any of the names bandied about here would be a significant upgrade, plus the Braves should be able to put together an attractive package in return. The third factor to consider is the willingness of the team in question to deal. That’s the main reason the Twins players were higher on my list.

    Bob

  • Fred Owens

    I would have said the same thing as Bob being here in Texas I hear about Bourn a lot but statistically McCutchen is a superior hitter. He’s 20 points higher in BA, 30 in OBP and 115 in slugging. The LH/RH splits are even more dramatic, at least to me. Both hit righties at .274. Bourn (LH) however hits lefties at only .231 while McC (RH) hits them at .308. The BAbip shows Bourne at .339/.308 (r/l) while McC is .306/332. That looks even when they hit the ball but Bourn strikes out more 18%/25% vs McC 16%/13%. Bourn is a better slightly base stealer 84%/77% vs 80%/65% particularly against lefties but much of that has to do with catchers too so that’s probably wash. The thing is the Pirates have no incentive to trade McC who makes the minimum and is first year arbitration eligible in 2012. The Astros no real need to trade Bourn either as he’s arb eligible as well. He made 4.4 million and can expect a modest increase but they have nothing to replace him with and so would have to pay someone else. He’s young and I don;t see Jim Crane wanting to get rid of youth. He wouldn’t command much in return. I doubt he’s a type A so giving up a lot for him is problematic.
    I know, more than anyone wanted to know about either guy..