Spring training has come and gone and another Major League Baseball season is upon us. For some teams, the goal is to bounce back from a bad year. For others, it is to rise up from a perennial spot in last place and become a contender. For still others, it is to break in a new lineup and hope that off season moves will pay off. For the Atlanta Braves, it is something completely different.
The Braves will enter the 2014 season with a starting pitching rotation which bears almost no resemblance to the one the team boasted in last year. Departures and injuries have forced Atlanta to get creative in an attempt to fill out the rotation, especially for the first few weeks.
First of all, here is a look at the Braves starting rotation from 2013, along with the number of games each pitcher started:
Tim Hudson 21
Kris Medlen 31
Mike Minor 32
Paul Maholm 26
Julio Teheran 30
Not a bad starting five, right? Good enough to lead the Braves to 96 wins and a National League Eastern Division championship. Unfortunately for manager Fredi Gonzalez, only one of the five will open 2014 as a member of the starting rotation.
Of course, the Braves entered spring training knowing that there would be a couple of new faces. Hudson, who spent nine seasons with Atlanta, signed a two year, $23 million contract with San Francisco during the off season. Maholm, a trade deadline pick up in 2012, agreed to a one year deal with the Dodgers. The Braves expected these losses, but they didn’t know that the hits were just beginning.
First came the news that Medlen, who left a game on March 9 after experiencing pain in his elbow, would need Tommy John surgery and was lost for the season. For Medlen, who underwent the procedure on March 19, it is the second major surgery on his pitching arm.
As if the loss of Medlen, one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last season and a half, wasn’t enough, Brandon Beachy was forced to leave a game the very next day with elbow problems of his own. Beachy, who never fully returned from Tommy John surgery in 2012, ended up facing a second procedure as well.
Then there is Minor, who fell behind in his off season training due to urinary tract surgery and ended up reporting to camp with shoulder soreness. Fortunately for the Braves, he should only miss a couple of weeks if everything goes well. Complicating matters further is the fact that Gavin Floyd, who signed a one year deal with the Braves during the off season, is recovering from surgery as well and won’t be ready to go until at least May.
After enduring a perfect storm of pitching disasters, the Braves were left with Teheran, and two young pitchers: Alex Wood, who started 11 games in 2013, and David Hale, who started two. Not quite the elite rotation Braves fans have grown accustomed to over the years.
Atlanta’s front office was quick to respond to the injuries, however. Within days of hearing the bad news about Medlen and Beachy, the Braves signed Ervin Santana. Santana, a former All Star who spent last season with Kansas City after eight years with the Angels, chose the Braves over Minnesota, Toronto, and Baltimore. He gives the Braves the power pitcher they’ve lacked in recent years.
In the event that Minor is out for longer than anticipated, the Braves acquired an insurance policy with the acquisition of journeyman Aaron Harang. Harang, who has pitched for six teams during his 12 year career, has the ability to give Atlanta innings if nothing else. His presence could help the team bridge the gap until Minor is ready to return.
The departure of catcher Brian McCann, who signed with the Yankees during the off season, could also factor into the effectiveness of Atlanta’s patchwork rotation. Taking his place will be Evan Gattis, who had a strong rookie season in 2013, though he spent more time in the outfield than at catcher. His development will be key for the Braves.
All in all it was a disappointing spring for the Braves, who entered 2014 most concerned about the offense of the team’s highest paid players, Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, who struggled mightily in 2013. With all of the pitching injuries, offensive worries have taken a backseat, as most experts are now picking the Washington Nationals to win the National League East. Will the moves made by Atlanta be enough to keep the Braves in contention? That remains to be seen, but if one thing is certain, it’s that surprises will be forthcoming. Anything can happen, and the Braves and their fans will have to hope that things break their way.