After receiving bleak news regarding the injured elbow of Jonny Venters on Tuesday, the Atlanta Braves bullpen was forced to face the reality that they could be without the All Star set-up man until late May. The pen, it seems, hasn’t missed a beat.
After two shaky starts in the first three games of the season, the Braves bullpen has been tested extensively against a potent Phillies lineup. Atlanta has relied on proven arms like Craig Kimbrel an Eric O’Flaherty to pick up some of the slack, but most of the success has rested on the shoulders of Luis Avilan and Anthony Varvaro. Avilan, who was thrown into the fire on Opening Day, proved his mettle quickly after striking out Ryan Howard and putting an end to the Phillies’ fifth-inning threat.
With the absence of Venters’ domination from the left side, Avilan will likely be relied on heavily as part of the dual threat that Atlanta features primarily against left-handed hitters. Avilan’s low 90′s fastball and natural arm-side run give him the ability to come in tight situations for the Braves when a strikeout is needed.
From the right side, Varvaro has emerged quickly this season. Varvaro, who is in his third season with the Braves, has given Fredi Gonzalez reason to believe that he is the go-to guy in the event that a long relief appearance is needed. Varvaro has tallied four innings through three games this season and has surrendered just one hit.
The Braves will continue to rely on Jordan Walden and Cristhian Martinez in the coming weeks, but both will have to show improved fastball command before they can take on prominent roles. Walden took a step in the right direction Thursday again the Phillies after logging a scoreless 7th inning with no walks. Walden has been known to suffer from erratic command of his pitches, but with a mid-90′s fastball, the Braves are hoping that he can emerge as a true late-inning option with O’Flaherty and Kimbrel.
Cristhian Martinez will continue to serve as one of Atlanta’s hybrid relievers, providing Gonzalez with the ability to make extended appearances, while also possessing a dominant enough fastball to be a situational reliever. For Martinez, though, command and consistency is the name of the game. Martinez hasn’t issued a walk in yet this season, but it’s the quality of strikes that must he must make a priority. Martinez has a tendency to leave pitches around the middle of the place, rather than working the corners and letting the defense work behind him. As a long-relief option out the pen, Martinez will be forced to focus on the economy of pitches and look to induce contact rather than strikeouts.
With the depth and talent that the Atlanta pen holds, the Braves have the ability to turn each night into a 6 inning game. Atlanta can match up by hitter or by inning, but this bullpen has the ability to lock down three innings and a win each and every night they go out. Just wait until you throw Venters into the mix.