Oh, great! The Atlanta Braves have more “good” problems. Can we get some kind of Dr. Phil for baseball teams? Or at least this guy in his red sweater to sit in the stands?
The countdown is on for Braves fans. Brandon Beachy, who underwent Tommy John surgery last year, is expected to make his 2013 debut against the New York Mets next weekend. His return actually falls in a perfect spot as the Braves and Mets have a game to make up, and it will happen in a doubleheader that falls in the midst of a four-game series. But the question looms: In the middle of a season with a full rotation, who gets to be the odd man out?
Okay, hold up. Does this sound like the setup for a bad reality show, or what? Read this in the “movie guy” voice: Six pitchers. Five open spots. One of them is getting kicked off the island. I mean, into the bullpen.
This could be “Survivor” or “Top Chef.” Ooh, or maybe “The Voice.” Now, there’s a thought — Braves fans vote via text message and the winner stays on! Just kidding. If it were up to y’all, we would’ve cloned Evan Gattis nine times over and just put him everywhere for every game. Or, in a midseason upset, bring Chipper Jones back to play a few games. And Dan Uggla would be selling cotton candy in the stands. Yeah right. I don’t trust you guys for a second.
No, this one’s going to come down to a closed-door discussion between Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez. And love ’em or hate ’em, they’re going to try and make the right decision.
Fear not! This isn’t the end of the season; there’s still plenty of room for change, and this likely won’t be the only time this discussion comes up. But someone’s gotta go, so who’s it going to be?
Brandon Beachy’s first full season with the Braves looked like this: 25 games, a 7-3 record and a 3.68 ERA while striking out 169 in 141.2 innings. Not bad at all. But it was last season that really got the Braves excited. Before tearing his UCL, Brandon Beachy was holding down an even 2.00 ERA through 13 games. His SO/9 was 7.6, which is something to be excited about. And then there was his 0.963 WHIP. Yum.
Obviously, the Braves would love to strengthen an already solid rotation as they head into summer, when the races really begin to tighten. Or, if you’re lucky, it’s the time when a team can really run away with the lead. Either way, starting pitching is going to make a huge impact, and these decisions now could make a huge difference.
So, who is the odd man out?
There’s been a whole lot of talk about sending Kris Medlen back to the bullpen, so we’ll start there. In 13 games this year, Medlen’s record is a nasty looking 3-6. Not pretty in the least. His WHIP is almost 1.29, which is not ideal and certainly not the Medlen the Braves are used to. But he’s driven his ERA down to 2.87, which puts him in the top 25 in baseball.
I know — these aren’t sterling numbers. But in case I didn’t say it before, I shall do so right now: Last season was a fluke! A happy, awesome, whale-tail fluke! Not to say he can’t hang with the big boys, but 9-0 in 12 games with an ERA of 0.94 and a SO/9 of 9?! If anyone could keep that up for a career, they could go ahead and take every pitcher out of the Hall of Fame, because they’d all look like bums cast in gold. Now, when I say fluke, I don’t mean a Phillip Humber perfect-game fluke. Medlen did have a 12-game stretch of pitching like the most dominant guy in all of baseball. Which is to say, I don’t think his best year is behind him. But I digress. Or do I?
The Braves aren’t going to move Tim Hudson or Paul Maholm. Both are veteran starters whose paygrades are too high to move into the bullpen. Look what happened to Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami. Ugh. Just saying their names leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The biggest issue here is the starters don’t want to go to the bullpen because they want to lead the team to victory every time out. They want the ball. To them, relieving is taking a step backward. But the Braves really need a solid reliever who can anchor the bullpen in front of Craig Kimbrel. And whomever that person ends up being, they’re going to be a stud. Everyone at the Ted will chant their name in the seventh inning when they take the hill! They might even get a cool walkout song!
Here’s the thing: Brandon Beachy has one outing to blow everyone’s faces off. And if he holds the Mets to, say, one hit and strikes out 10, then there’s really going to be some food for thought. Realistically, though, he will likely be the guy to go to the pen. Maybe he’ll even have to carry the backpack. Sure, it’s for rookies, but considering how long he’s been gone, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Considering how good a stint in the bullpen was for Medlen, it seems like a solid option. It’s not the sexy one, it’s not the ESPN-headline one, but it’s one that will help this team win. Especially as the “Survivor” talk now includes trading away Maholm near the deadline in order to make room, if Brandon Beachy can make a push towards the end of the season and crush like Medlen did, one can only like the Braves’ chances more.
Besides, if we can be honest for a moment, we have to face the fact that when left up to the fan vote, things like Izzy, the Olympic mascot get picked. Zing!