As the old adage goes, you can never have too much pitching. Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez now understand that as well as anyone.
During the offseason it seemed as if the Braves had enough depth on the mound to put together two full rotations, as BravesWire’s Kent Covington outlined in February. Now, the Braves find themselves hard-pressed to fill out one.
Through 48 games, Atlanta has the 21st best ERA in the Majors and have displayed consistently mediocre pitching since the start of the 2012 season. While the bullpen hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, there remains hope that the relief core can return to form without any personnel adjustments. The Braves have not lost faith in underperforming relievers, Eric O’Flaherty and Johnny Venters, whose early season struggles have been at the heart of Atlanta’s bullpen inconsistency.
The starting rotation–particularly the back end–is more worrisome.
No player has been more disappointing than Jair Jurrjens, who remains in Gwinnett and has yet to regain the confidence and command necessary to return to the big leagues. Now a far cry from the pitcher that started last season with a 12-3 record, Jurrjens continues to struggle in the minors, currently sporting a 5.56 ERA in Triple A through six appearances. At this point the Braves would be foolish count on his return and must plan to move on with the former All-Star, a difficult pill to swallow to say the least.
Then there’s Mike Minor, who’s regressed quite a bit so far this season and become one of the most hittable pitchers in the league over his past six starts. After making some ill advised comments during Spring Training about his placement in the organization, the former seventh overall pick has hardly been worthy of a spot in Atlanta’s rotation, as he’s failed to win a game since April 19. Surrendering an average of 5.43 earned runs per game since his last victory, it may be time for Minor to join Jurrjens in Gwinnett for the time being.
For Randall Delgado, who won the Braves’ 5th starter job out of spring training, it has been anything but smooth sailing. Delgado, 22, currently sports a 2-5 record and a 4.53 ERA—hardly what team management had hoped for when they decdided to bring him north with the big boys.
Beyond the aforementioned starters, the Braves’ prospect depth has also been disappointing. Julio Teheran, one of the most promising young pitchers in baseball, appears no readier for prime time than he was at the same point last year. His underwhelming performance in spring training earned him a bus ticket back to AAA Gwinnett.
While slated for the bullpen this year, top-rated RHP prospect Arodys Vizcaino was a starter throughout his minor league career and would have added to ATL’s starting pitching depth. Unfortunately, he is currently recovering from “Tommy John” surgery and won’t return until next season.
RHP prospect JJ Hoover was also a part of the Braves’ pool of young arms seemingly ready for big-league action, but he was traded the Reds for 3B Juan Fransisco back in March.
Nevertheless, the Braves still have two rotation options in their bullpen in Kris Medlen and Livan Hernandez, both of whom have experience as starters. Given the troubling state of the back end of Atlanta’s rotation, there must have already been a least a couple of closed-door discussions about shifting one of the two back to the rotation in place of Minor or Delgado. This switch could become even more feasible if Peter Moylan proves healthy and effective upon his return, which could be drawing near.
While the Braves have pitching issues at the moment, the rotation’s top-end trio of Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy is more than solid. And while Atlanta’s pitching depth is not what it appeared to be just two months ago, the Braves still have options. Options which may have to be exercised if something doesn’t give very soon.
Andrew Hirsch is a freelance sports writer and MLB analyst for BravesWire.com. Follow him on Twitter: @andrewhirsh
And before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.