March 9, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor pitched well against the New York Yankees on Saturday. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Braves Spring Training–The Pitching Story So Far

Yesterday I looked at the hitting which seems to be on the track we expected. Today it’s the pitchers’ turn and as usual there’s good news and not so good news

The Rotation

It’s not much of a secret that the rotations consists of Kris Medlen. Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm and Julio Teheran. All the spin about Sean Gilmartin challenging for the fifth spot is just that; spin. Gilmartin’s ceiling is probably as a four or five and he’s not ready – nowhere near ready – yet.  What about the five that are?

Medlen seems to be on track to be opening  day starter in spite of a 4.00 ERA and a WHIP of 1 in his three games (9 innings) so far.  He’s given up a couple of homers but he’s also struck out 7 and only walked one. That means he’s been around the plate but some pitches got too much of the zone, pretty standard for early spring training games.  Teheran has looked like he’s ready to be the guy he was projected to be. He’s had the same starts and innings as Meds but he’s struck out 12 and has an ERA of 2.00 and a WHIP of 0.67. Those numbers reflect that he’s sharp in the zone and that his fastball has the movement it had in 2011.  That doesn’t make him as ace yet but he looks good enough to be out number five.

Mike Minor seems to have picked up where he left off last year. He looks confident on the mound and seems to have formed a solid relationship with Gerald Laird. He’s been sharp through his nine innings without surrendering a home run and striking out seven along the way.  He has walked five as well but he’s pitched himself out of trouble without allowing any big innings so far. Watching him on the mound he looks a much more confident and in control pitcher than he did prior to the All Star game last year.  That’s the good news, now for the not so good.

Paul Maholm’s pitched less innings than any of the projected starting five primarily because he’s got a WHIP of 1.80 and his control isn’t close to being ready. We know he isn’t a strike out guy and four in his 8.1 innings so far isn’t a surprise.  Pitching to contact is his game but unfortunately contact has been loud and to add to his issues he’s walked six. On the upside he hasn’t allowed a home run yet so his sinker is staying down and a pitcher’s control is always problematic early on, so hopefully he’ll get things worked out in the next three weeks. Interestingly Fredi Gonzalez allowed Maholm to stay in the game way beyond his scheduled pitch count. Asked whether he’s told the skipper he wanted to stay in to work things out he said no, he just pitched until he was taken out.  He’s a veteran and there’s no reason to panic yet but with our minor league pitching depth looking more like a puddle than a lake the Braves need Maholm to be at least a .500 pitcher this year. More worrying is the way Tim Hudson’s performed so far.

Hudson’s start on Sunday was typical of his spring so far as the Marlins had Hudson’s number from the start. Huddy threw 28 pitches in the first inning and 97 pitches in his five innings giving up nine hits, six runs, a homer and a walk ; he called it a train wreck.  Listening on the radio it’s impossible to see what’s going on but he was quoted as saying it’s a breakdown in his mechanics and he’ll work it out in the bullpen.  At 37 years old Huddy says he feels good and thinks it will all work itself out. From the Braves point of view he has to work it out. It’s possible to replace a number four or five starter like Maholm but Huddy’s much more important, not only for his ability on the mound but also for his leadership of a very young staff.   Landing a man capable of filling Hudson’s shoes during the year would be a challenge.

The Bullpen

With the exception of Jordan Walden (back) and Eric O’Flaherty (groin?) the Bullpen arms seem to be rounding into shape early well.  The find of 2012 Luis Avilan looks like he’s settled in to stay giving legs to rumors of a trade. Reports are that Jonny Venters is looking like his old self  and Cristhian Martinez looks good as well in spite of his astronomical ERA. Cory Gearrin looks in good form too but Anthony Varvaro has been erratic.

Speaking of O’Flaherty, there seems to be a disconnect on his physical condition. Fredi Gonzalez said he was  giving EOF lots of rest to protect his back but EOF said his back is fine. Whatever the reasons he seems to be ready to go now.



While everyone was watching Gilmartin, J.R. Graham arrived and lit up the radar gun with a 101mph fastball in an early relief appearance. Suddenly everyone wanted to see him. He’s been used in relief since then but GM Frank Wren says that his future is as a starter because that heater stays in the high 90’s throughout the game. With out shortage of power arms I’m betting Graham is nurtured as a starter. Besides, our bullpen is rather crowded with power arms at the moment.  I was also impressed with Alex Wood who came on in relief and ended up in a 9th inning jamb when his defense allowed in scoring position with no one out. Wood buckled down and shut them down, no mean feat for such an inexperienced pitcher. he’s a couple of years away but I look forward to seeing more of him.

That’s A Wrap

Our pitching is not as deep as many think, injuries to starters could cause real trouble as we don’t have arms ready to move in.  The bullpen looks solid and deep enough to weather any storm however even if Walden’s back acts up or we end up trading an arm for a bat.  There’s not much mystery who’ll fill out the twelve man staff to start the season. The real issue is who will gain the starting third base job and who will man the bench. Reports today confirmed my belief that the Braves would love to have Evan Gattis with the team but fell he needs a lot more time behind the plate too.  Time will tell how that works out. The Braves search for a left handed bat will intensify as other teams start cutting  players  – well they already have made cuts but not the kind of bat the Braves need. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an experienced starter added to the minor league roster as they are cut from other teams. I’ll watch the wires and when players are added you’ll get an idea how they fit here at Tomahawk Take.

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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