July 27, 2009 at 9:52 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Injuries, Pitching, Transactions
The buzz today has been that the Braves are leaning towards standing pat at the trade deadline. Several sources have indicated the Braves won’t be part of any major trade discussions. In his blog, Buster Olney says:
The Braves have won three consecutive series after beating the Brewers on Sunday. Heard this: Although Atlanta is talking with other teams and monitoring the market, the Braves don’t have a glaring hole. They’ll look to add bullpen help, if available, but probably won’t be a factor in any major trade talks.
Separately, Mark Bowman reports:
Wren believes he is already in line to gain the pieces to satisfy his pitching and offensive needs.
“I think we’ve made our moves early,” Wren said. “I don’t think there is any pressing need for our club. Like any other team, we know that our club isn’t perfect. But I think we’re playing the best baseball that we’ve played in the last three or four years.”
We had previously heard that the Braves will look to add a reliever. But with the organizational depth the Braves possess, this may not be necessary. The bullpen is currently constructed of Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, Eric O’Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Kris Medlen, Boone Logan, and Manny Acosta. With Buddy Carlyle, who has recently pitched 4 scoreless innings allowing 3 hits and no walks and striking out 4 for Class-AAA Gwinnett, looking to return from the DL very soon and Jeff Bennett (whose rehab hasn’t gone so well, allowing 2 hits, a walk, 2 runs, and throwing a wild pitch in his lone appearance while retiring only 3 batters for the same Gwinnett team) working towards a return, the Braves probably feel secure in that department. They also may have more pitching depth than others think.
Tonight Tim Hudson made his first AAA appearance in his 3rd rehab assignment. Hudson needed only 41 pitches to get through 4 innings. He allowed 4 hits (3 singles and 1 double) and no walks while striking out 2. Eight outs were recorded on the ground, including 1 double play, and only two were recorded in the air. Two of the hits were well-struck, but they were on the ground and there’s much reason to be encouraged by Hudson’s outing. He was locating his fastball to both sides of the plate and using a sharply-breaking overhand curveball with some tilt. He threw 27 of his 41 pitches for strikes. Hudson will most likely make 3-4 more rehab starts working up to 6-7 innings before he returns to Atlanta, presumably to join the rotation. There has been some speculation that Hudson will return to the Braves as a reliever, but it’s now known that the Braves intend to use Hudson as a starter. Provided everyone in the rotation as it is currently constructed–Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, Tommy Hanson, and Kenshin Kawakami–is healthy when Hudson returns, the Braves will have an interesting decision to make. Who gets bumped from the rotation?
It’s unlikely that the Braves would opt to move either of their young stars, Jurrjens or Hanson, to the bullpen. Theoretically they could do so to limit their innings, but I don’t get the sense that they want to. They’re developing as starters and pitching very well. There’s little upside to moving either out of the rotation as it could impair their development and weaken the rotation. Of the five starters, Derek Lowe has the most experience pitching out of the bullpen–beginning his career primarily as a reliever and notching 85 saves before being converted to a full-time starter in 2002. But given the fact that Derek Lowe was brought in to be a durable starter and to give the team quality innings and considering the contract the Braves and Lowe agreed upon this off-season (4 years, $60 Million), it is unlikely that the Braves will desire to move Lowe out of the rotation. Lowe has historically been a 2nd-half pitcher (career 2nd half 3.53 ERA vs. 3.96 in the first half) and having a 15-million dollar arm pitch out of the bullpen isn’t the most efficient allocation of resources. Javier Vazquez has been an absolutely dominant starter and there’s no chance the organization will consider moving him from the rotation.
The obvious choice to be moved to the bullpen is Kenshin Kawakami. Kawakami has suffered from shoulder fatigue this season and the same ailment shut him down after 117 innings last year in NPB. The adjustment to a 5-man rotation and a larger baseball has undoubtedly contributed to his shoulder fatigue. Utilizing Kawakami out of the bullpen would allow the Braves to monitor his innings, workload, and health. Additionally, it gives Bobby Cox another arm he can trust to pitch out of the bullpen. Kawakami, Gonzalez, Soriano, Moylan, and O’Flaherty would combine for excellent late-innings bullpen depth and plenty of overall bullpen strength. It isn’t inconceivable that Kawakami could initially function as a long-reliever or possibly piggyback with Tim Hudson (or any starting pitcher), but eventually, the Braves will most likely desire for Kawakami to settle into a late-innings role.
So with the return of Carlyle and Bennett to the Braves’ bullpen and the return of Hudson to the rotation which will most likely push Kawakami to the bullpen, doing nothing could be the equivilent of making a big move under other circumstances. If everyone is healthy, I imagine a 5-man rotation of Hudson, Vazquez, Lowe, Jurrjens, and Hanson and a 7-arm bullpen of Kawakami, Gonzalez, Soriano, Moylan, O’Flaherty, Carlyle, and Bennett/Logan/Acosta with Medlen manning the Class AAA Gwinnett Braves rotation for development purposes by the end of August. Still, with the recent injury concerns regarding Gonzalez and the general overuse the bullpen–especially its’ top arms–endured in the first half, another quality reliever would be a welcome addition. Kelly Johnson, who recently improved his trade value, could be used to obtain said reliever. We’ll keep you updated on the Braves-related rumblings in this space and on twitter @CapitolAvenue all week leading up to Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline.