June 6, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Brandon Beachy (37) looks on from the dugout during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Who Moves With Beachy's Return?

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.

Apr 9, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Brandon Beachy (37) throws a pitch against the Houston Astros in the first inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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  • cheadrick

    Nice read. Took the words right out of my mouth. I don’t think Minor has established himself as irreplaceable, but he’s damn close with his outings this season.

    • Jeff Schafer

      Don’t agree with sending Medlen back to the bullpen. He hasn’t pitched bad early in 2013 and definitely not bad enough to lose his job. Two months ago everyone thought Med’s was our Ace!

      I think Teheran has pitched well enough to stay and I’m excited to watch him continue to grow.

      I think Beachy goes to the bullpen to start off (even tho Fredi has said he will be a starter) OR the Braves go to a 6 man rotation. I’d prefer him in the bullpen in 2013.

      • http://twitter.com/CarlosCollazo__ Carlos Collazo

        Beachy should definitely be put in the bullpen when he gets back (see: Medlen, 2012). All of our starters have been solid so far with the exception of Huddy.

        I still think it’s too early to try and predict the odd man out as injuries can happen between now and then, and performance will likely change.

  • Benjamin Chase

    I would like to see Beachy/Teheran pairing in the 5th spot in the rotation. Teheran is on pace for a very high career high for innings pitched, and sharing the 5th job and pairing the two would be good. It’d allow for Beachy’s innings to be lower and ease him back and also keep Teheran from over-taxing his arm. I’d love to have both JT and Beachy in top form come October, whether they’re in the playoff rotation or firing bullets from the pen.

  • Caleb

    You can’t move Medlen or Minor out of the rotation. No need to question either of them. Medlen has a 1-5 record, but an ERA of 3.16. He’s getting squat for run support, you don’t take your second best starter out of the rotation. I can’t imagine they would give up on Hudson in June (although I would not be totally against it) with the career he has had and knowing he can easily come around. Maholm and Teheran (lately) have been solid, but I would not send Teheran back down. I would say that you are right about sending Beachy to the bullpen for now would be the best option, so that they don’t move him too fast, especially with a pretty solid rotation thus far. After a month or so after Beachy comes back and evaluating his work in the pen, then make a decision maybe.

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