When Braves fans last saw Brandon Beachy in a Braves uniform, the promising young right-hander was being escorted off of the Turner Field mound, en route to the inevitable 12-month recovery that awaits each and every Tommy John patient.
Now less than one month from Beachy’s one-year anniversary, the Braves are graced with the prospect of the All Star caliber Beachy returning to their active roster, and yet burdened by the decisions that his return will force.
Beachy, who has only ever started in the big leagues, will join an Atlanta rotation that has seen its fair share of ups and downs this season. With only two starters—Mike Minor and Paul Maholm—as high as six wins, on the surface it appears that the bullpen is shouldering most of the teams deciding innings. But with just one starter in Tim Hudson, posting an ERA above four, it can also be said that the starting pitching isn’t getting a whole lot of help from the offense.
Those numbers aside, the bottom line is that the Braves haven’t had any starting pitcher establish himself as irreplaceable. So with five average starters, three of which under the age of 28, and a 6th ready to come off the DL, who gets the boot?
To narrow the question, let’s start with the obvious: Tim Hudson isn’t going anywhere. He will be the ceremonial ace of the staff until he decides that he’s done. No questions asked. Almost as sure of a bet as Hudson, is the ever-improving Julio Teheran. Frank Wren made Teheran’s value clear in the offseason, and barring a major meltdown or injury, Teheran is a safe bet in the five spot of the rotation.
For me, it’s hard to consider moving either lefty out of the rotation. The Braves have maintained a right-left-right rotation all season, and in many cases I think Minor and Maholm have done wonders in the middle of a series, splitting up the similar right-handed starters. But that doesn’t mean that both are safe from change. While Maholm still hasn’t spent a full season in Atlanta, there’s no reason to rule out a trade that could send Maholm elsewhere for an established reliever. It’s an outside chance that Wren would consider trading one of just two left-handed starters, but in the event that push comes to shove, Maholm is moveable, Mike Minor is not.
The most likely man for the Braves to consider is a rather obvious one when you look at the track records. Kris Medlen has proven his ability out of the bullpen. In fact, before last season’s historic 10-win second half, Medlen wasn’t even regarded as a mainstay in the starting rotation. For most of his young career, Medlen was the long reliever that you knew could give you a start here and there. His 18 starts and 50 relief appearances through 2009 and 2010 speak to his versatility and effectiveness in both roles. Medlen’s 1-5 record this season only further simplifies the equation. Why not move Medlen back to the bullpen as the versatile strike thrower in favor of Beachy’s prowess as a starter?
Well here’s why. Brandon Beachy is set to return in mid-June, with roughly 3 ½ months left to finish the season. By the time October rolls around, Beachy will barely be ready to stretch starts into the 7th and 8th innings of games. Like it or not, the smart move with Beachy is the same one that played out perfectly with Medlen. Give him the time to regain strength in the bullpen. Give the ball to Beachy when a starter can’t get out of the 4th or when you need to bridge the gap from the 6th to the 9th. Let Beachy ease back into swing of Major League Baseball will incremental relief appearances and not five inning starts. When Spring Training 2014 rolls around, you bet he’ll have a spot in the rotation. But for now, it’s in everybody’s best interest to give Beachy the 6th bullpen slot instead of handing the ball to Medlen in the 6th inning of every Beachy start.