Prior to the start of the season, we posted a piece here at BravesWire titled “Not one, but TWO Braves rotations” highlighting the apparent depth of the Braves pitching staff. It appeared at the time that the Braves had enough Big League or Big League-ready arms to fill TWO Major League starting rotations.
How things have changed.
Jair Jurrjens spent much of the season at Triple-A, Gwinnett trying to iron out his problems, and while he is now back in Atlanta, he remains on the bubble.
Meanwhile, Brandon Beachy and RH prospect Arodys Vizcaino (who was slated for the bullpen but could have started) are both recovering from season-ending ligament replacement “Tommy John” surgery.
Kris Medlen was sent to Gwinnett to stretch his arm out and nearly joined the Atlanta rotation, but his services remain critical to a Braves bullpen that has not been nearly as dominant as expected.
RH prospect JJ Hoover was traded to the Reds for 3B Juan Fransisco.
Top-rated phenom Julio Teheran hasn’t looked as Big League-ready as most thought he would at the half-way point of the ‘12 season.
Mike Minor and Randall Delgado remain in the Braves rotation, but while both have looked great at times, they’ve also had their share of horrendous starts. Their youthful unreliability is forgivable, given their age and inexperience, but the Braves need more consistency in their rotation if they hope to make a postseason run.
This team has fallen victim to a remarkable degree of misfortune in the pitching department this year. And with that in mind, I must say something I never could have envisioned myself saying just 4 months ago…
The Braves need pitching.
This is a realization the Braves front office came to weeks—perhaps even months—ago, and the process of trying to strengthen this beleaguered Atlanta pitching staff is well underway.
The Braves made their first move to that end a week ago, when they signed former All-Star right-hander Ben Sheets. While, officially, the agreement with Sheets was of the minor league variety, the Braves fully expect Sheets to join the Big League rotation soon.
Sheets will turn 34 years old later this month. He has pitched 9 seasons in the big leagues, including 5 straight years (2004-2008) with a sub-4.00 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers. He is a 4-time All-Star (2001, ’04, ’07 and ’08). After undergoing season-ending “Tommy John” surgery in 2010, he sat out the entire 2011 season and the first half of the ’12 season. He’s healthy now, and by all reports, his velocity and overall “stuff” looks pretty good.
Sheets made his first uniformed start in nearly two years Wednesday for the Braves Double-A affiliate, Mississippi. He threw 74 pitches over 5 innings. He allowed 4 runs on 5 hits and struck out 6 batters. He looked rusty through the first 2 frames, understandably, but rebounded with 3 scoreless innings. Atlanta Braves Manager, Fredi Gonzalez, was encouraged by Sheet’s outing, noting “He touched 93 mph, good breaking ball; threw well. He’s going on to his next start.”
Ben Sheets is expected to join that Atlanta starting rotation, replacing either Mike Minor or—more likely—Randall Delgado, sometime after the All-Star Break.
But the Braves aren’t stopping there. They’re still very much interested in trading for a proven quality starting pitcher. Top candidates include Milwaukee’s Zach Greinke, Minnesota’s Fransisco Liriano, and Ryan Dempster & Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs.
The top starting pitching prize on the trade market is, without a doubt, Zach Greinke, and the Braves are believed to be serious suitors for his services. Let’s suppose, for the sake of conversation, the Braves were to land Greinke. All of a sudden, you’ve gone from a rotation of: Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Minor, Delgado … to a rotation of: Greinke, Hudson, Hanson, Sheets, Jurrjens. Quite a difference, huh?
With Sheets apparently on his way up soon and the Braves hip-deep in the starting pitching trade market, there is a better than average chance that this Braves rotation will look quite different by month’s end.