A couple of weeks ago in this space, I opined that the Braves had a decent shot at resolving their bullpen needs from within, and listed four quite reasonable options. Let’s see how that’s going:
- Luis Ayala. Completed his rehab at Gwinnett and was called back up early this week. Result? Too early to tell. He’s had one outing so far – faced four batters over one inning, yielding one hit. No other damage. You can probably expect to see him on the mound during the day game today at some point.
- Brandon Beachy. Suffered a setback in his rehab a week before that article, so the question then was “how long would it be?” The answer seems to be “a while”. He faced his first game action (at AAA Gwinnett) last night, went three innings, and did okay (2 runs in the first inning; a 1-2-3 final inning in a scheduled 3 inning stint). No report yet on how he feels today. The schedule was to give him at least two more starts, so he’d be available no sooner than the end of the All-Star break, perhaps later. However, it should be noted that the Braves are intent on stretching him out for starting duty… which will lead to a question I’ll deal with at the end of this.
- Cristhian Martinez. His rehab did not go well. As was reported yesterday. Martinez is done for the year. All we can do at this point is wish him well in the recovery – which for a pitcher will be just that much longer. Best-case scenario is that he is available for Spring Training next year.
- Juan Jaime. Well, since speculating that he could be called up from AA Mississippi to support the bullpen… his ERA has tripled and he is having even more trouble keeping the ball in the strike zone. He continues to strike out hitters at a torrid pace (15+ per nine innings), but major league hitters would make him throw strikes, for sure. Thus this option… really isn’t an option.
- Meanwhile, oft-used/abused Cory Gearrin was excused back to Gwinnett, resulting in a net gain of zero in the bullpen over the past two weeks. Not helpful.
So… that didn’t work real well, huh?
That was four options… only one is barely in use at this point, with no real change in needs since we lost Gearrin in the process. As for Beachy, if he can truly be restored to form before the trade deadline, then it would leave open the possibility of trading a starting pitcher (Maholm?) for a solid bullpen arm… or more. Starting pitching is clearly the number one need for teams right now, so I expect that Frank Wren is salivating over the possibility of having ‘surplus’ pitching available. This writer, however, would urge him to resist that.
The idiom “you can never have too much starting pitching” applies here. Even if Beachy becomes a 7 inning-ish starter in the next two weeks (something I’d call a longshot), the short timetable is too risky to rely on him for all of August, September, and beyond. In the playoffs, you don’t actually need the fifth starter – true – but you assume a lot if this team goes with a lack of spares for the stretch run. If you are able to acquire 1 or 2 additional players for the bullpen, then perhaps Alex Wood can be returned to the minor to get him stretched back out as a possible replacement, but… you see all of the italicized words in that? Realize that it only takes one “incident” for that entire house of cards to tumble.
All of this points to one thing: the Braves need to aggressively pursue at least one additional/reliable bullpen piece for August and September. No matter what else goes on with the starters. Gearrin could be back later as the “second” arm, but it is still vitally important to support that rotation at the dog days of Summer come upon us. The Atlanta bullpen has been a strength so far, and this team cannot afford to lose that edge to over-use.