SEATTLE — The last time Eric O’Flaherty pitched in Seattle, he had a 20.25 ERA and wore a Mariners uniform.
Things were quite different Monday, when the Walla Walla, Wash., native returned as a vital member of a Braves bullpen that had the best ERA (2.64) in the major leagues before Tuesday.
After securing 35 tickets for 35 friends and family members, O’Flaherty pitched a hitless eighth inning in Monday’s win. The left-hander trimmed his ERA to 1.24 – tied for second-best among National League relievers – and recorded his 15th hold, tied for third in the majors.
Not bad for a guy the Braves claimed off waivers from the Mariners after the 2008 season.
“I grew up in Eastern Washington, about 3 hours from here,” said O’Flaherty, a sixth-round draft selection by the Mariners in 2003. “But I bought a bought a place here [in Seattle] like, three weeks before I got put on waivers. I live here in the offseason.”
O’Flaherty relished the opportunity to come home during the summer, when Seattle’s 70-degree weather and sunshine are quite different than the chilly, rainy months he spends there during the baseball offseason.
He was waived after struggling with back problems and posting a 5.91 ERA in 78 relief appearances over parts of three seasons with the Mariners, including 20.25 in seven painful appearances in 2008, when it was feared he might need surgery.
O’Flaherty got on a strict conditioning regimen and made that same number of appearances (78) in just his first season with the Braves in 2009, posting a 3.04 ERA. He had a 2.45 ERA in 56 games last season, and this season he’s off to his best start yet.
He was slowed for a little more than a week this month by minor back stiffness, but O’Flaherty was healthy in time for this two-city trip to San Diego and his adopted hometown of Seattle. His 39 appearances were tied for fifth-most in the majors before Tuesday.
Coming back healthy and with a team in contention was what he wanted.
“It’s good to come in and get some wins, too,” he said. “We’ve got a tough couple of games ahead of us [Tuesday and Wednesday]. They’ve got some good pitchers — but we do, too.”
Reliever Jairo Asencio was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to open a roster spot for Tommy Hanson, who came off the DL to start Tuesday night’s game. Asencio had a 6.97 ERA in six appearances. He allowed 12 hits and eight earned runs in 5-1/3 innings over his past four games.