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?