COMMENTARY | Brandon Beachy was scratched from his much-anticipated first start of the season after feeling tenderness in this elbow following -- what was supposed to be -- his final rehab assignment before rejoining the Atlanta Braves on June 18. After Beachy's first setback of his entire post-Tommy John surgery rehab, how cautious do the Braves now need to be with their would-be ace? Here are three likely options the Braves will consider.
Sit Him Until After the All-Star Break
The first thing that immediately crossed my mind when I heard the news about Beachy was why in the world the Braves seemed so bent on bringing him back as soon as possible. Atlanta has been in first place all season long, while the rest of the division has provided very little resistance. Case in point, Atlanta has gone 2-6 in their last eight games, but has dropped only one game in the NL East standings. The Braves are still enjoying a 5 ½ game lead -- the biggest divisional gap in baseball -- and no other team even has a winning record.
Although the starting staff would certainly benefit from having an anchor like Beachy back in the rotation, Braves pitching still ranks No. 2 in all of MLB with an ERA of 3.26. Bringing Beachy back to win June and July doesn't matter if Atlanta would potentially risk losing him for the stretch-run. I'm also not sure how Beachy returning will help Dan Uggla or B.J. Upton hit higher than .200 -- which is the real problem the Braves are currently facing.
Furthermore, Beachy is still far from sharp. I know stats are meaningless in rehab assignments, but it would be nice to see Beachy go out and have at least one dominating performance to show he is ready for the same kind of success when the outcome actually is important. In four starts with Triple-A Gwinnett, Beachy has a 4.20 ERA with 14 walks in only 15 innings of work. Some could argue that bringing him back to face the woeful New York Mets lineup would be tantamount to pitching Beachy against a Low-A or even a bad Division-3 college team, but why rush him back?
Elbow Tenderness is Nothing, Just Give Him a Quick Rest
The other side of the argument would suggest that elbow tenderness is not worth becoming too overly cautious. Pitchers put a lot of strain on their arms, so tenderness is to be expected -- specifically as Beachy tries to come back from Tommy John surgery. Scratch him from his next start or two, have him make one more rehab assignment, and then bring him back to the rotation for good.
Just consider what Braves general manager Frank Wren said on Friday: "This is really the first setback he's had throughout this process, so we're going to give him a little more time."
'The first setback' suggests that the Braves expected Beachy's road to recovery to be littered with them. If Beachy had made it all the way through without anything extra having to be corrected, fans might have had to white-knuckle their remotes as they waited for the other shoe to drop. With this latest news, we can be glad that they are getting this out of way now, instead of having a problem arise after he returned.
Bring Him Back in a Bullpen Role
If I could posit a quick question: Why is Beachy immediately returning as a starter?
It seems Atlanta already has the blueprint for addressing Tommy John recoveries, thanks to Kris Medlen's success last season. Medlen started in the bullpen as a middle reliever before finally making his first start on July 31, 2012. Medlen went 9-0 with a 0.95 ERA in his 12 regular-season starts.
The 27-year-old right-hander began 2013 in the rotation, and, although his record is not where he would like it, a 3.09 ERA with no health setbacks along the way is exactly what the Braves would have hoped to see.
Beachy is now in the same injury-boat that Medlen was in last season, however, Atlanta is electing to immediately put the strain of big innings on his repaired right arm. And what happens if Beachy is not able to give them six innings per outing? Starting Beachy right away could comprise the workload of a bullpen which has already had to regroup after losing Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters to their own Tommy John injuries. It would seem the 'pen is where Beachy might be needed the most anyway.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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