COMMENTARY | With Brandon Beachy, Jonny Venters and Jason Heyward all currently relegated to the disabled list, it would seem that the Atlanta Braves have managed to hold on to first place in the NL East division with more than a few of their hands tied behind their back. Although the Braves have not been at full strength at any point during the 2013 season, Atlanta's infirmary ward is about to get a little lonelier thanks to the impending activation of some key veterans. Just when can fans expect to have their team back to 100 percent?
Jason Heyward, RF
Heyward will be the first to return to the field for the bereft Braves. Although he has been sidelined ever seen his emergency appendectomy surgery on April 22 in Denver, Heyward has already begun his minor league rehab assignments. While serving as the designated hitter for Triple-A Gwinnett, Heyward has hit just .167 in 15 plate appearances. Heyward's comeback trail has had to take a couple of detours thanks to him needing to be scratched from the lineup due to soreness, and then getting one of his expected rehab games rained out. He had been tentatively scheduled to meet the Braves in the desert for their three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but now it seems more likely the All-Star right fielder won't be ready to rejoin the big club until they return to Atlanta May 17-22 to play the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins in back-to-back series.
Heyward's return to the Braves' lineup will leave someone as the odd-man-out in the Atlanta outfield. In his absence, Jordan Schafer has thrived in the Braves' leadoff role, hitting .267 with 10 walks and six steals in 15 games of action. Evan Gattis has also found playing time in the outfield thanks to Brian McCann returning to reclaim his throne behind the plate. Manager Fredi Gonzalez will likely have some tough decisions to make regarding how to distribute starts between Heyward, Gattis, Schafer, Reed Johnson and the Upton brothers in a suddenly crowded Atlanta outfield.
Brandon Beachy, SP
The 26-year-old right-hander was pitching like a true Major League ace before Tommy John surgery ended his 2012 season. Before his untimely injury, Beachy was leading all of baseball with a 2.00 ERA. Beachy, who has not seen a pitcher's mound since June 16 of last year, is set to begin throwing in extended spring training games on Tuesday May 14. If everything goes according to plan, the Braves will send him to Atlanta for six Minor League rehab starts before reactivating him from the disabled list. The tentative return date for Beachy is targeted for the middle of June.
Beachy's impending return could not come at a better time for the Braves. What was once a red-hot rotation with the league's best ERA has now been banished to the middle of the pack in the National League. The Atlanta pitching staff has slid all the way back to seventh in the senior circuit (3.62). The Braves' starters are currently just 15-13 with a 3.90 ERA. Beachy's return would mean that Atlanta would have a true ace to anchor their staff. It will also allow them to move Julio Teheran into the bullpen as another dependable arm for manager Fredi Gonzalez to call on late in games.
Jonny Venters, RP
The news on the Braves' hard-throwing left-hander is not quite as promising as Beachy or Heyward's prognosis. After hurting his elbow in the last week of spring training, Venters has been slow to return. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection from the infamous Dr. James Andrews on April 2, which was only supposed to keep him sidelined for a month. Venters threw from the mound for the first time on Thursday May 9, but had to cut short the session after only tossing ten pitches.
"I was putting something on it, for sure," Venters explained. "Ball's still coming out [of his hand] decent, just didn't feel very good. So we'll see."
Venters was able to get through his 15-pitch throwing session the following day, although he still complained of tenderness in that injured elbow.
"It felt about the same [as Thursday]," he said of his second throwing session. "I was trying to get on it a little more to test it. It feels strong. So we'll see. See how it feels tomorrow. Take it day-by-day for now."
Thankfully, the Braves do still have Craig Kimbrel and Eric O'Flaherty to nail it down at the back of the bullpen. Yet, a healthy Jonny Venters gives Atlanta the ability to shorten games the way no other teams in baseball can. Even from just a psychological point-of-view, Venters is invaluable to the Braves. With Kimbrel, O'Flaherty and Venters lurking in the wings, opposing teams know they really only have six innings to try to rack up runs before they have to face the shut-down stoppers in the Braves' pen. The three-head Braves' monster can be a starting pitcher's best friend, and right now the Atlanta starters could use a pal like that.
There is currently no time-table for Venters return. The Braves will likely be extremely cautious with his recovery and have not yet ruled out the possibility of shutting him down for the season altogether. For now, fans just have to keep their fingers crossed that Venters can make it back at some point to try and help the Braves make a potential World Series run.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jason Heyward
- Jonny Venters
- Brandon Beachy
- the Braves