If it is possible to quantify what starting pitching has meant to the Atlanta Braves in April, you won’t find it in a simple series of
numbers. Sure, the Braves have a rotation with a combined 1.50 ERA in a total of 138 innings pitched. Sure, the late spring signees Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana have unexpectedly brilliant ERAs of 0.85 and 0.86, respectively. Sure, the young guns aren’t too bad, either. Alex Wood has a 1.54 ERA, Julio Teheran 1.80 and David Hale a still quite respectable 2.93. But there’s more to it than the numbers.
Remember when Kris Medlen went down during spring training? Remember how everyone thought the Braves were in serious trouble? Remember when Mike Minor wasn’t going to be on schedule because of shoulder soreness and the league wrote off Atlanta? Remember how devastating it felt when Brandon Beachy followed with his Tommy John news and then Cory Gearrin? Take those feelings, those fears and then consider just what has been accomplished without Medlen, Beachy, Minor and Gearrin, not to mention the continued absence of Venters:
- Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana have the first and second lowest ERA by starters in the National League.
- 4 of the 5 current members of the starting rotation are in the top 10 in ERA in the National League (Harang, Santana, Wood, Teheran)
- 2 starting pitchers are in the top 10 in the NL in strikeouts (Wood T-5th with 35; Harang 9th with 33).
- Braves pitching is 1st in the league in team ERA (2.16).
- Relievers Anthony Varvaro and Ian Thomas both have a 1.69 ERA in 5 1/3 innings each.
- With slightly more work out of the ‘pen, Jordan Walden (8 1/3 innings) and David Carpenter (9 1/3 innings) have sub-3.00 ERAs, 2.16 and 2.89.
- Though Craig Kimbrel missed a week, he has a respectable 3.24 ERA with 6 saves in 8 1/3 innings pitched. His 18 strikeouts are the most by any reliever.
There has been a bit of history made in April, too. In his Wednesday start, Aaron Harang became the first pitcher to start a season with at least 6 innings pitched and 1 earned run allowed or fewer in 5 appearances since Pedro Martinez did it in 1997. Also on Wednesday, the Braves recorded 16 strikeouts, the most by pitching in a single game this season and the most they’ve had in a game since August 16, 2013. In his previous start when Harang left his no-hitter, he became only the 3rd pitcher since 1900 to exit multiple no hitters after 6+ innings pitched. On April 16th, Julio Teheran became the first visiting pitcher to ever throw a shutout at Citizens Bank Park. And Craig Kimbrel hit 900 batters faced in his young career with a unheard of 44% strike out rate (392).
With a week to go in the month, the Braves are approaching big decisions in their staff with pitchers Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd returning from rehab stints. Instead of hoping to bridge to Minor and Floyd’s return, the Braves now look at which of the solid starters could potentially move to the bullpen and what they do with Gavin Floyd altogether. The likeliest option is for David Hale to join the ‘pen, but that, too, leaves out an arm in the ‘pen that has been useful. The Braves now face a problem they couldn’t have anticipated coming out of camp: too many arms. But as these things often go, they tend to work themselves out before a decision has to be made. It certainly is a better position to be in for Atlanta then the one they faced at the start of the season.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch