February 20, 2012 at 5:34 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
With the “news” that Tim Hudson will likely be out until May, the Braves will have to find a fifth starter to fill in during the season’s first month. When in May is up to Hudson and his back, but at this point expecting at least four starts from the last spot in the rotation seems accurate. If something comes up in his back along the line, we could see up to seven or eight starts before Hudson is ready to return. During that time, it is certainly possible that another injury occurs to a starter making the fifth guy a regular in the rotation for most of the season.
The good thing about this situation is that rotation depth is probably the Braves’ biggest strength. They have a number of qualified options for this position, which most teams cannot quite say.
The best guess to take the spot out of camp is Teheran. He is the team’s top prospect, and should perform well as a fifth starter even without more minor league seasoning. He did not have much success in his three starts with the A-team last year, sporting just an 11.5% strikeout rate and 9.2% walk rate (league averages last year were 18.6% and 8.1% respectively), but that came as a 20-year-old and is taken from a small sample. He is certainly better than that, but what does worry me just a tad is his minor league strikeout rate. He only struck out 20.7% of the batters he faced in triple-A, good for a 7.59 strikeout-per-nine innings pitched ratio. While that is above the league average for a Major Leaguer, he was expected to be the type of pitcher that sat close to a strikeout an inning. Teheran is probably ready to fill in for Hudson, but he could still use a bit more work at triple-A as well.
The story is not much different for Delgado. He also had poor strikeout and walk rates in his seven Major League starts, but he did not even have a full year of double-A experience before being tossed into the big league rotation. He moved back and forth between Gwinnett and Atlanta after he made his debut, and had his best game in his second start. He allowed just one hit, which was a home run, in a six inning outing against the Giants. He struck out four and walked one, which showed that he had the ability to perform at the level. Delgado did not pitch very effectively the rest of the way, and his four starts in Gwinnett were not too impressive either — pitched to a 4.15 ERA and 4.82 FIP in triple-A. Delgado is somewhat of a long shot to nail down the fifth starter role, but many saw Brandon Beachy in a similar light last year.
This would probably be my choice. Medlen will be with the Braves for certain, but what capacity is still up for debate. The Braves want him in the bullpen, but they will stretch him out as a starter throughout the spring. Since triple-A can do some good for Teheran and Delgado, using Medlen for the first four to seven starts then transitioning him to the bullpen could be a great way to maximize effectiveness from the fifth starter role while giving the younger prospects an opportunity to get more seasoning in the minors. He sports a career 4.22 FIP as a starter compared to a 2.72 mark as a reliever, so his strength is not in the rotation. However, for the short-term, I think he is the best option.