Buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

Braves season preview: Pitching injuries alter plans

The SportsXchange

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- All the news was good at the start of spring training, with Atlanta Braves locking up first baseman Freddie Freeman, closer Craig Kimbrel, right-hander Julio Teheran and shortstop Andrelton Simmons to long-term contracts.

The vibe quickly changed, though.

Right-handers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy went down in consecutive games, and each needed a second Tommy John surgery.

The Braves were suddenly forced into catch-up mode, and that appears to be their status in comparison to the Washington Nationals in the National League East.

Atlanta won 96 games last year and finished 10 games ahead of the Nationals, who had plenty of early issues. Now the tables appear to have turned.

The Braves acted quickly to sign free agent right-hander Ervin Santana to a one-year deal as a replacement for Medlen, but there was no easy fix to cover the absence of Beachy. There also is concern about left-hander Mike Minor's ailing left shoulder.

At the start of the season, the Braves' rotation will be Teheran, Alex Wood, recently signed Aaron Harang and either right-hander David Hale or right-hander Gus Schlosser. Santana won't be up to speed until around April 12, when the team first needs a fifth starter.

Right-hander Gavin Floyd, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, could join the rotation in late April.

Still, general manager Frank Wren gave a positive spin.

"Slowly but surely, we're getting Santana, Minor and Floyd," he said. "Then we're back to pretty good depth and pretty good strength. By getting Santana, we were able to make the most out of a tough situation."

With all the questions about the rotation, there is more pressure on the bullpen. Kimbrel was the top closer in the game over his first two seasons, but can the Braves hand him enough leads?

"We're going out to win. We still have a great team," Kimbrel said. "It's tough losing two top pitchers, but getting Santana was really big."

The Braves should again hit a lot of home runs, but strikeouts remain a problem. Much will depend on center fielder B.J. Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla bouncing back from dismal years.

"Time will tell, but we like what we've seen so far," Wren said.

For most of the past quarter century, the Braves were pitching-rich. This season, they may have to outslug teams.

"We don't talk about it, but I think it's in the back of our minds," Freeman said.

Can the Braves beat out Washington again and win the NL East?

"They're a good team, but so are we," right fielder Jason Heyward said. "No one should count us out."

Injuries can be overcome, as veteran catcher Gerald Laird keeps reminding the Braves. He was with St. Louis in 2011 when the Cardinals lost ace right-hander Adam Wainwright and still won the World Series.

NOTES, QUOTES

--1B Freddie Freeman, who signed an eight-year, $135 million contract extension, had a red-hot spring. Still, it would be hard to top 2013, when he hit .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs. "That was a pretty darn good season he had last year," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "If he can keep duplicating it year after year, that contract is going to be cheap."

--CF B.J. Upton, who hit a dismal .184 last season after being signed a Braves-record free agent deal, showed some positive signs this spring. He returned more to his previous stance and was no longer trying to pull everything. "I'm not reading too much into the (number of) hits in spring training, but it's the location of the hits," he said. "That's a pretty good sign, man."

--RHP Julio Teheran got the starting assignment for Opening Day almost by default with the Braves' injury issues, but he still was excited. "I'm very happy. It's a great honor to pitch on Opening Day," he said. "Hopefully next year and in a couple of years I'll still be the Opening Day starter." The 23-year-old from Colombia was 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA last season.

--RHP Aaron Harang, signed as a veteran rotation option after RHP Freddy Garcia was released, is slated to start the third game of the season at Milwaukee. "Our reports on him late last season and this spring were good," Braves GM Frank Wren said. "We felt he was a good fit for us. We didn't want to go into the season with all young guys in the rotation." Harang, who had been in camp with Cleveland, made 26 starts for Seattle and the New York Mets last year.

--RHP Gavin Floyd, who had Tommy John surgery last May while with the White Sox, potentially is on pace to join the Braves rotation in late April after a minor league rehab stint. That is a return in less than 12 months, but Floyd was ahead of schedule all spring. He was to pitch in a minor league spring game March 28.

--2B Dan Uggla had four homers and a triple over a stretch of 24 spring at-bats, giving hope for a bounce-back season after he hit .179 last year. "When he came in here (this spring), you could see the difference," hitting coach Greg Walker said. "Everything was flowing. He looked like Dan Uggla again."

QUOTE OF NOTE: "I know what I can do. I feel like I have been through pretty much everything. Now I just want to be healthy. It's as simple as that." -- RF Jason Heyward, who had an appendectomy and a broken jaw last season.

ROSTER REPORT

The loss of RHPs Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to second Tommy John surgeries made for a dramatic spring, and the Braves apparently slid behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East. The signing of free agent RHP Ervin Santana, though, offered hope, and the Braves aren't conceding anything. After all, Atlanta won the NL East by 10 games last year with 96 victories.

ROTATION:

RHP Julio Teheran

RHP Ervin Santana

LHP Alex Wood

LHP Mike Minor/RHP Gavin Floyd

RHP Aaron Harang/RHP David Hale/RHP Gus Schlosser

The Braves will not need a fifth starter until April 12 because of days off, and that is good. The injury-depleted rotation is barely four deep going into the season, and that is only after Harang was signed the final week of spring training following the release of fellow veteran RHP Freddy Garcia.

Santana, signed late, should be ready by the time a fifth starter is needed. Minor (shoulder tendinitis) and Floyd (elbow surgery) are shooting for the end of April.

Teheran, who won 14 games as rookie, starts on Opening Day and will have to carry a bigger load than anticipated with the loss of RHPs Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery. Wood, in his first full season, looked good this spring.

BULLPEN:

RHP Craig Kimbrel (closer)

LHP Luis Avilan

RHP David Carpenter

RHP Jordan Walden

RHP Anthony Varvaro

RHP Gus Schlosser

LHP Ian Thomas

Kimbrel was the best closer in baseball over his first full three seasons and got rewarded with a four-year, $42 million contract extension. He has 138 saves while striking out 381 and allowing just 123 hits in 227 1/3 career innings.

The bullpen had the best overall ERA in the majors last season, but it isn't without questions for this season. A second effective left-hander is needed, and LHP Jonny Venters likely will miss the first half of the season following a second Tommy John surgery.

LINEUP:

1. RF Jason Heyward

2. CF B.J. Upton

3. 1B Freddie Freeman

4. 3B Chris Johnson

5. LF Justin Upton

6. 2B Dan Uggla

7. C Evan Gattis

8. SS Andrelton Simmons

The Braves should again hit plenty of homers and register plenty of strikeouts. More consistency is obviously needed, especially with the pitching staff weakened by injuries. Heyward, though, may flourish in his first full season at leadoff, and Freeman is ideal in the No. 3 spot.

Bounce-back seasons from B.J. Upton and Uggla are needed if the Braves are to challenge for first place. The left-handed bat of C Brian McCann, who signed as a free agent with the Yankees, will be missed. Is slugger Gattis, a feel-good rookie story, ready for everyday duty?

Johnson, who had a .321 average last season, batted cleanup in the spring with Justin Upton in the fifth spot.

RESERVES:

INF Ramiro Pena

OF Jordan Schafer

C Gerald Laird

C/OF Ryan Doumit

INF Tyler Pastornicky

Doumit, acquired from the Minnesota Twins over the winter, gives the Braves a switch hitter with power off the bench and a third catcher behind Gattis and Laird.

The Braves also will benefit from the healthy return of Pena (shoulder) and Pastornicky (knee), who had their 2013 seasons ended by surgery.

Schafer offers speed and can spell Heyward at the leadoff spot when he is in the lineup.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--RHP Kris Medlen (Tommy John surgery in March 2014) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He will miss the entire season.

--RHP Brandon Beachy (Tommy John surgery in March 2014) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He will miss the entire season.

--LHP Mike Minor (left shoulder soreness) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He is projected to join the rotation before the end of April.

--LHP Jonny Venters (Tommy John surgery in May 2013) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He might be ready to return in June.

--RHP Gavin Floyd (Tommy John surgery in May 2013) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 21. He could be activated in late April.

--RHP Cory Gearrin (sprained right elbow) left the March 23 game. He likely will go on the disabled list.

Instantly join a new league.

League type:
Free Yahoo League
League size:
10 players
Draft time:
Aug 28 9:00 am
View Comments (1)