Clearwater, Fla. – He has pitched so well as a reliever this spring, the Braves are considering Jo-Jo Reyes for one of two bullpen vacancies instead of the starting rotation at Class AAA Gwinnett.
Problem is, if Reyes is in the ‘pen instead of getting “stretched out” as a starter at Gwinnett, there isn’t another minor-league starter the Braves consider ready to fill in if one of the major-league starters goes down.
“We haven’t made up our minds on anything,” manager Bobby Cox said after the left-hander pitched two perfect innings in the Braves’ 5-4 win against Philadelphia on Monday at Bright House Field.
“It’s a predicament because Jo-Jo’s a starter backup guy if we sent him out [to the minors]. If we keep him, he could help us here, too. But then who’s the starter if somebody gets hurt?”
The Braves have Kris Medlen as a jack-of-all-trades reliever/spot starter, but he’s arguably too valuable in that role to move him to the rotation if a starter goes down for more than one start.
Besides, Medlen wouldn’t be stretched out to pitch six or seven innings in a starter’s regular turn.
Reyes has a minor-league option remaining, which means the Braves could send him to Gwinnett without exposing him to waivers. That would give them some security in case they need a replacement starter.
That he’s made it a tough decision says a lot about how much improvement the Braves have seen this spring from Reyes, who’s 5-15 with a 6.09 ERA in 40 games (37 starts) in the majors.
He’s allowed seven hits and three runs in 11 innings this spring, with four walks and six strikeouts. He’s been in seven games, all in relief.
“He’s having a much better spring than he did last year,” Cox said. “His stats may say last year [was better], I don’t know. But it’s not even close.
“He’s throwing more strikes, the ball is sinking, and his breaking ball is, like, two times better. It’s got some depth to it, some break to it now, not just a spinner that you show. It’s an out pitch now.”
Reyes, 25, said he doesn’t know which decision the Braves will make, but he’s glad to have given them plenty to consider. And he’s got a changed attitude about pitching in relief.
“I’m feeling good out of the bullpen,” he said. “In my mind I’m not trying to change anything, but it’s a lot different than it was the last couple of years. I think I can let it loose some more instead of pacing myself.”
He said that “letting it loose” in one- or two-inning bursts as a reliever is working better for him than his approach as a starter.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “In the past I was trying to pace myself. I think that could probably hurt me — pacing myself I probably tried to guide the ball more. Now I’m just letting it happen.”
He retired six consecutive batters Monday, five on groundballs.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen this spring. I just wanted to go in there and whatever happens, happens. Make the decision hard [for Braves officials] whatever it was going to be.”
“Yeah, I think I’m doing my part,” he said. “I guess we’ll see what happens.”