Braves Making the Team Meter: Week 4, Pitchers

I’m splitting up the Atlanta Braves Making the Team Meter this week to better focus on the battles on each part of the team. Today I’ll focus on the pitching staff, including who will make up the rotation and who will fill out the bullpen. You can find last week’s MTM here.

Starting Rotation:  This is the area of the team that has been thrown into the most turmoil this spring. The season ending injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy have left two huge holes in the Braves staff. So how will the rotation look to start the season?

The Braves open their season with three games in Milwaukee, then have an off-day. They then travel to Washington for three games, then have an off-day. After that they have 16 straight games. The rotation could manage with just four starters the first two and a half times through using this lineup:

  1. Starter 1jteheran2
  2. Starter 2
  3. Starter 3
  4. Off-day
  5. Starter 4
  6. Starter 1
  7. Starter 2
  8. Off-day
  9. Starter 3
  10. Starter 4
  11. Starter 1
  12. Starter 2
  13. Need starter 5, April 12th

As you can see the Braves can use four starters for the first 12 days of the season while keeping all starters on a regular five days rest.

At this point the four starters that will comprise that early season rotation seem to project as Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Freddy Garcia, and David Hale. Presumably at game 13, when a fifth starter is needed, Ervin Santana should be ready. Shortly thereafter Mike Minor should be ready. All indications are that Santana and Minor will not be ready to go on opening day. The Braves are said to be taking it extra-cautious with those two because of the injuries already experienced in the rotation.

This scenario gives Santana and Minor plenty of time to get ready, and allows them to throw a minor league rehab assignment or two. This also allows the Braves to evaluate Wood, Garcia, and Hale and determine which two are pitching the best, and remove the weak link from among that group when Minor joins the rotation.

As far as “making the team,” with the good appearances they’ve had recently, Wood and Hale both seem to be locks for breaking camp with the team. Garcia’s case is more about being a veteran than actually having pitched well, but as a veteran entering his 16th season the Braves likely have confidence that Garcia knows how to bring it all together when the bell rings (at least they hope so).

After those three starters the “next line of defense” is Gus Schlosser, a right-handed side-armer with a history of getting better as he moved up the minor league ladder. The Braves are stretching him out and preparing him for a role as a starting pitcher, possibly in the Major League rotation. He could simply be keeping a spot in the spring rotation warm for Santana and/or Minor, but he’s pitched good enough for the Braves to keep him in his current role and see what the results are.

Schlosser’s role on the opening day roster could be to serve as a long reliever, or it could be to occupy a spot in the rotation if they choose to go with five starters, or if one of the aforementioned four gets injured. His presence in the bullpen, should they use him there, would be as the eighth reliever, and not one of the seven main relievers in the pen…

The Bullpen:  The front five appear to be set and unchanging — Craig Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, and Luis Avilan — with the possible exception of the fifth member, Anthony Varvaro. Opposing batters are hitting .400 against Varvaro this spring, and he hasn’t had two back-to-back good outings yet.

The remaining contenders for the final two spots in the pen are Luis Vasquez, Ryan Buchter, Juan Jaime, Ian Thomas, and Cory Gearrin. Vasquez has been the talk of the winter, and with all the buzz it certainly seems that the Braves want him in the pen. He got a late start this spring, but has pitched decently and shown that electric side-arm fastball the Braves really like.

Buchter has put together good work lately to both left-handers and right-handers. Ian Thomas, the other lefty reliever, has posted very similar stats to the ones Buchter has put up. Thomas has arguably pitched a little better — collecting more strikeouts and issuing fewer walks.

Juan Jaime hasn’t made it into a Major League spring game in a week, but he was putting together an impressive spring. Gearrin has had the ugliest spring line among this group, getting lit up in two of his eight appearances. Strangely, Gearrin has been much less effective against right-handers this spring, and surprisingly effective against left-handers. This is contrary to his career splits, which have shown better work against righties than lefties.

There are still 11 exhibition games left and 13 days until opening day. That’s three or four appearances for any of these bullpen candidates to win or lose a spot. Thomas and Schlosser are the only two among this group of pitchers I’ve mentioned who are not already on the 40-man roster. That shouldn’t be a limiting factor though, as there are currently three open spots on the 40-man, with at least one more opening up once Medlen goes on the 60-day disabled list.

If I had to pick two of these guys right now to fill out the pen, I’d think Buchter and Gearrin would be the guys the Braves would pick. Gearrin is out of options, and even though he’s had a rough spring, he wouldn’t make it through waivers if the Braves tried to send him to the minors. Vasquez might change my answer with good work in the coming days.

The other option here is always a trade. Certainly this year, with no two candidates truly distinguishing themselves in the bullpen, the Braves could opt to acquire a reliever. I could also see the Braves trading away Gearrin (or even Varvaro) if he doesn’t make the bullpen.

It’s still too early to tell exactly what direction the Braves will go, but the field of candidates has narrowed considerably. I’ll check in again early next week to see how this battle is unfolding. Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the candidates for the final bench spot (or possibly two).

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