COMMENTARY | They say too much talent is never a bad thing, but one member of the Atlanta Braves' rotation may not feel that way after Brandon Beachy returns from offseason Tommy John surgery to force someone to the bullpen.
Beachy has already begun his minor league rehab assignments, and, if everything remains on course, the Braves' ace should rejoin the team by mid-June.
"His command was a little spotty, but that was the first time he's faced outside competition," Gonzalez said after Beachy tossed 70 pitches in his first rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett. "He was fine. He's progressing well and we'll just keep him going."
Without -- arguably -- their best starting pitcher, Atlanta's staff ranked No. 5 in the National League with a 3.38 ERA on May 24. When Beachy returns, Atlanta will be welcoming back a pitcher who had the lowest ERA in all of baseball (2.00) before his elbow injury put an end to his 2012 season. While there is always the possibility that manager Fredi Gonzalez would choose to move to a six-man rotation to save his starters some innings in advance of a potential World Series run, the more likely scenario is that one member of the Braves' current rotation will be exiled to the bullpen.
I'll you save the suspense: It won't be Mike Minor. If Beachy is considered the No. 1 starter for the Atlanta Braves, then Minor is 1-A. He has the best record of any Braves starter this season (6-2) and has accumulated the lowest ERA (2.47). The fact that he is left-handed also puts another checkmark in his Pro-column as well. I'm going way out on a limb here, but Minor will stay in the rotation.
Medlen is an interesting case study. For one, he ended last season on a run which saw Atlanta win 23 straight games in which the pint-sized right-hander started. Medlen was even selected to pitch in the Braves' one-game wild-card playoff against the St. Louis Cardinals last Oct., although that didn't exactly go according to plan -- thanks infield-fly rule.
To this point, Medlen has not matched the 1.57 ERA he posted last season, though few expected he would. His 3.16 ERA still ranks him second on the staff; however, the wins have been slow to follow. Medlen is just 1-5 as a starter this season, but much of that can be contributed to his lack of run support.
While moving Medlen to the bullpen may seem like a ridiculous proposition, he has considerably more experience there than any of the other options. Medlen made just 12 starts while also appearing in 38 games out of the 'pen last year. In fact, 2013 has been the only season during which Medlen has been a full-time starter. Over his five-year career, Medlen has made 90 appearances in relief. Simply from the standpoint of having someone who is already comfortable pitching on an everyday basis, moving Medlen to the bullpen would be the easiest transition Gonzalez could make.
Maholm has pitched exactly one inning of relief during his eight-year Major League career. His 3.38 ERA and 6-4 record are both worthy of a stay in the rotation, and, like Minor, dependable left-handed starters do not grow on trees. In a division with Ryan Howard, Bryce Harper and Carlos Beltran, lefty starters are far too valuable to be wasted in the bullpen. Neither Minor nor Maholm should be thought of as serious candidates for bullpen duty any time soon.
In 416 career games pitched, Tim Hudson has made exactly one appearance out of the bullpen. Although his 4.98 ERA is the highest on the staff, Gonzalez may be uneasy about the idea of moving his most veteran pitcher out of the rotation. Now pitching in his fifteenth year in the big leagues, Hudson has accumulated enough seniority and respect that even asking him to move his 201 career wins to the 'pen could be tantamount to a slap in the face.
Hudson has never been a diva pitcher, and he may already see the writing on the wall and offer to move. If this were the case then he might be the best option. With Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters done for the season, Hudson could give the Braves a stable presence late in games that they could turn to in any situation and know he will not shrink under the pressure. That being said, Hudson has earned a spot in the rotation if he demanded to stay.
Sadly, having the best stuff on the staff may not be worth a whole lot when everyone else has more experience. Low man on the totem pole is usually the person who will get the quick heave, and in the case of Teheran, 12 career starts may not have garnered him enough clout to remain a starter.
After two failed attempts at becoming the Major League starter the Braves had envisioned, Teheran has finally emerged as a dependable arm this season. His 3-1 record and 3.99 ERA do not begin to show just how well the 22-year-old right-hander has thrown in 2013. He has currently given up the second fewest earned runs of any Atlanta starter (22), and has allowed the lowest number of walks (9).
Teheran has also been getting stronger as a starter with each outing. Teheran's 2.53 ERA for the month of May has only been bested by the 2.36 mark Minor Minor has posted. Minor is also the only starter with a lower WHIP (Walks/Hits per Innings Pitched) than Teheran's 0.94 during this portion of the calendar. It may not be very smart to stunt Teheran's further development with a bullpen demotion.
There is always hidden option F in which Fredi Gonzalez would choose to bring Beachy out of the bullpen for a while after he returns. Much in the way the Braves used Medlen after he came back from Tommy John surgery in 2012, Atlanta could bring Beachy back slowly. Despite being on the team from the start of the season, Medlen did not make his first start of the year until July 31. Judging by how strong Medlen performed as a starter late in the year, Beachy to the 'pen may make a lot of sense initially.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
- Sports & Recreation
- Brandon Beachy
- Kris Medlen
- Tim Hudson
- Fredi Gonzalez
- Mike Minor