Clarksville, TN – I keep having conversations with both Braves fans and baseball nuts in general that center around three central themes:
1.) What are the Braves going to do about their bullpen, and should any young arm that gets called up just schedule a pre-emptive Tommy John surgery 18 months from now?
2.) How in God’s name can the Braves get Gattis in the lineup on a regular basis?
3.) What chain of events need to unfold before B.J. Upton gets benched?Let’s tackle the last one first. Nothing short of murder is going to get B.J. Upton benched. He’s paid too much, he’s the reason the Braves went out and got his brother, and they’re going to keep his brother happy regardless of how crappy B.J. is playing. Fredi Gonzalez’s hands are tied, both with B.J. and Dan Uggla; you can’t have $20 million worth of overrated star spitting sunflower seeds (or chewing tobacco, Uggla’s case) on the bench while the likes of Ramiro Pena and Jordan Schafer start for them. You plug them into the lineup in the seven and eight spots, hope they figure it out and assume that every third inning literally nothing good can happen for you at the plate and that the other six guys in the order can make up for it.
(That Frank Wren appears to have whiffed this badly on the two biggest free-agent acquisitions in franchise history is something we’ll discuss on another day when I’m in a less forgiving mood.)
It also explains the Gattis quandary. Certainly, the Pale Bear is hitting better than Upton the Elder and Uggla right now, but he can’t play second or center; even if Fredi got the green light to bench B.J. and move Justin Upton to centerfield, would that make you feel more comfortable, given some of J-Up’s foibles in left this year?
It’s hard to figure on Gattis because the spots he could play – catcher, left field, first base – are currently occupied by the three guys in the lineup actually producing on a consistent basis (Brian McCann, J-Up, Freddie Freeman). Jason Heyward certainly hasn’t lived up to his usual standards in right field, but emergency appendectomy surgery and the complications thereof have a way of slowing down your average perennial All-Star rightfielders. He certainly hasn’t been the outright train wreck that Uggla and B.J. have been.
Small factions of people (I know, older link) wonder at the possibility of moving Gattis to third base, a position he’s never played before. I’ll save you a bit of time: NO. I go back to the old Casey Stengel quote: “Son, I don’t like those guys that drive in two runs but let in three.” Gattis, for all the promise and talent he’s shown, hasn’t made anyone say, “Boy, he seems like a defensive stud out there!” He’s a catcher, corner outfielder, mythical legend, pinch-hitting god and first baseman, in that order. Juan Francisco getting DFA’d won’t change that either; it’s Chris Johnson (and I suppose Pena’s) position now.
What is most likely to happen is that at some point, the ridiculous “We have to keep Gerald Laird, he’s Julio Teheran’s personal catcher!” stance will be aborted, Laird will be sent down or shipped out – hopefully for a left-handed reliever – and Gattis will give McCann and the corner outfield guys off days when necessary and pull his weekly Pedro Cerrano as a pinch-hitter. As well as Teheran has pitched, he figures to be the odd man out once Brandon Beachy returns to the rotation.
Ah, but the bullpen. That one is starting to become a problem. We knew things would get a little sideways without Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty, but this has the potential to go south in a hurry. Anthony Varvaro and Cory Gearrin have each blown two saves in the last two weeks, although Gearrin was kinda forced to wear the one Sunday when Fredi didn’t have another lefty to bring in after throwing Luis Avilan. Avilan has looked solid if unspectacular, while the man most likely to assume the role of full-time eighth-inning guy (Jordan Walden) just returned from the disabled list. David Carpenter and Cory Rasmus are nowhere near ready for prime time, Luis Ayala and Cristhian Martinez are still hurt and Alex Wood is a little wet behind the ears – although he’s coming whether he’s ready or not.
Wood and fellow lefty Sean Gilmartin may be the future, but we may see that future sitting in the bullpen for the Braves this summer – as it stands, they are PAINFULLY thin on lefties in the pen, with Avilan the only one with any big-league experience. While Beachy’s return may push someone out of a rotation spot — unless he pulls a Kris Medlen and is used as a reliever on his way back from Tommy John surgery — it’s unlikely to be Paul Maholm, who is the only left-handed starter and has exactly one relief appearance in 228 big-league games. That means a move, and with limited trade pieces for a big-time left-handed reliever, it’s unclear what direction the bullpen takes from here.
(Maybe Gattis can learn to pitch lefty, too.)
Stat o’ The Week
Walden’s average fastball velocity by year since 2010: 98.7, 97.5, 96.3, 94.6. I don’t like the direction that is trending, although he was touching 97 against the Blue Jays.
What to Read
Danny Knobler explains the logic behind the Alex Wood call-up and the hope that he’ll turn into a Chris Sale-like addition, to the bullpen for a couple of years before making the logical leap to 17-game winner. I’m dubious at best but maybe that will happen.
If you only watch one game of the Nationals series, make it…
Stephen Strasburg against Julio Teheran could be a good one (Friday, 6:30 p.m. CT). Strasburg’s record doesn’t exactly reflect it, but he’s still a force on the mound, while Teheran has quietly strung together four consecutive quality starts. His K/9 numbers are ghastly (4.92 over the last 30 days), but he’s been able to get out of trouble when he needs to and the Nats lineup has been awful of late (22.8 percent strikeout rate, .228 average over the last 30 days).
Craig Kimbrel Fact No. 9
Evan Gattis wears Craig Kimbrel pajamas.
About Colby Wilson
Colby Wilson is a free-lance columnist for the Clarksville Sports Network. He enjoys some of the finer things in life, but is at his most content lounging on the couch watching sports. If you like what he wrote, let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org; if you didn’t, keep it to yourself, okay?
Web Site: http://www.clarksvillesportsnetwork
SectionsAnnouncements, Atlanta Braves, Baseball, Columnist, Featured Story, MLB, Sports
TopicsAlex Wood, All-Star, Anthony Varvaro, Atlanta, Atlanta Braves, B.J. Upton, Baseball, Bench, Big League, Brandon Beachy, Braves, Braves Baseball, Brian McCann, Bullpen, Casey Stengel, Chris Johnson, Chris Sale, Christhian Martinez, Clarksville TN, Cory Gearrin, Cory Rasmus, Craig Kimbrel, Dan Uggla, Danny Knobler, David Carpenter, Elder, Eric O'Flaherty, Fastball, Frank Wren, Freddie Freeman, Fredi Gonzalez, Gattis, Gerald Laird, God, Jason Heyward, Jonny Venters, jordan schafer, Jordan Walden, Juan Francisco, Julio Teheran, Justin Upton, Kris Medlen, Luis Avilan, Luis Ayala, Nationals, Nats, Pale Bear, Paul Maholm, Pedro Cerrano, ramiro pena, Sean Gilmartin, Stephen Strasburg, Tommy John, Tommy John surgery