COMMENTARY | While most MLB teams struggle to find two or three dependable arms to anchor their rotation, the Atlanta Braves have been squirreling away provisions like a Hostess Twinkie employee fearing the apocalypse.
With Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood proving their MLB readiness in Triple-A Gwinnett, Atlanta now has seven arms fighting for five rotation slots. The recent play of eight-year veteran Paul Maholm could put one of the Braves' starting roles up for grabs.
Regardless of whether Maholm's sprained left wrist causes him to miss his next start or not, the Braves southpaw should not expect to find his place card at the starting-rotation table when he is ready to return. Although Maholm shares the wins lead with Mike Minor (9), he also has the most losses among starters (9) as well as carrying the highest ERA for any pitcher on the team (4.41).
As Beachy continues to make the slow trek back from Tommy John surgery, the Braves know an ultimate decision on their rotation is imminent. Someone will have to lose his starting spot whenever Atlanta's would-be ace is ready to start his 2013 season. Before succumbing to injury last year, Beachy had a league-best 2.00 ERA through his first 13 starts and emerged as one of the up-and-coming young arms in the game.
Atlanta was waiting for someone to present himself as the most likely candidate for Beachy to replace, and it seems that Maholm may have just pitched his way out of the rotation. The Braves lefty is 0-3 with a 10.13 ERA over his last three starts, and, since May 1, his ERA has ballooned from 3.08 to 4.41. The one troubling trend that may seal his fate is that fact Maholm has pitched very poorly on the road. He has a 4-7 record away from Atlanta this season, and his 6.03 road ERA is the highest among all qualified MLB pitchers.
Maholm is scheduled to pitch on Thursday, July 25, so it is unlikely Beachy would immediately step into the starter's role. Beachy's next start for Gwinnett would be on Wednesday, and manager Fredi Gonzalez indicated he would like to see the right-hander extend himself out a little for one more rehab start before potentially being brought back up to Atlanta.
After Beachy surrendered one run in five innings for Gwinnett on Friday, Gonzalez said, "It sounds like it's getting close. We'll reevaluate tomorrow and the next day, see where we go, as far as the next step. Another outing, get him to seven innings or something like that."
The most logical move for the Braves would be to allow Maholm to climb the hill one more time, if he is healthy enough, or give the ball to Alex Wood for the start before handing the starting job to Beachy the following week. Wood had been a reliable fixture in the Braves' bullpen earlier this season, tallying a 2.45 ERA in 15 appearances. However, top brass still have bigger aspirations for Wood and decided to return him to the minors so he could get stretched back out for an eventual role as a starter.
If it were to turn out perfectly for the Braves, Maholm would not head to the bullpen, but, rather, the veteran left-hander would be the piece to anchor a trade for another much-needed reliever. As the 'pen is currently constructed, Luis Avilan remains the only southpaw Atlanta can turn to late in games.
In a dream world, the Braves would repackage Maholm and send him back to the Chicago Cubs as part of a deal to acquire lefty setup man James Russell, who has already been rumored to be on the Braves' trade radar. Atlanta received Maholm and Reed Johnson in a deal that sent pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino to the Northsiders in 2012.
Additionally, Maholm would not be the only starter on the move. To replace the left-handed Maholm in the rotation, Atlanta would insert southpaw Alex Wood in the back end of their rotation. To make the necessary room for Beachy, the Braves would also move Kris Medlen to the bullpen to shore up their late-inning relief. Medlen has been up and down as a starter this season, recording a 6-9 record with a 3.64 ERA. Medlen has plenty of experience in the bullpen, where he posted a 2.45 ERA in 54 1/3 innings of work in 2012.
Ideal Starting Rotation
James Russell (via trade)
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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