The last time Braves pitchers were at Turner Field, they left with heads down, as did the rest of the team. That was after a 13-inning season-finale loss to Philadelphia on Sept. 28, which ended their 10-20 collapse and kept the Braves out of the playoffs.
When pitching coach Roger McDowell welcomed back some of his charges Monday for the first day of the Braves’ early pitching camp at Turner Field, questions about The Collapse and lessons learned from it elicited similar responses.
Not terse, but succinct.
“The calendar turned over to 2012, and so it is a new year,” McDowell said. “Like any other experience you go through, good, bad or indifferent, you learn from it and move on.”
To a follow-up question moments later, he answered: “We’re going to play 162 [games on the schedule], prepare in spring training and get ready for the season. What happened in the past is not going to dictate what happens in the future. So we’ll move on.”
Brandon Beachy, one of seven pitchers who took part in the first day of the two-week voluntary camp, said there was optimism among returning Braves despite the bitter ending to their 2011 season.
“That’s in the past,” said Beachy, 25, who finished 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 25 starts as a rookie. “We learned from it, I believe. We know what happened. No one [person] is to blame. Each of us on an individual basis has things we need to improve on and things we could have done better at certain times. But it’s the beginning of a new season.”
The Braves return the big three at the back of the National League’s top-rated bullpen – closer Craig Kimbrel, setup man Jonny Venters and left-hander Eric O’Flaherty – and their top four starters in Tim Hudson, 2010 All-Star Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and Beachy.
However there are plenty of questions to be answered, specifically in the rotation with Hudson, Jurrjens and Hanson all dealing with health issues.
Hudson had back surgery in late November and will be brought along cautiously, which could push back his season debut back until mid-April or later, McDowell said Monday.
“We’ll progress [with Hudson] as the doctors say we can progress,” McDowell said. “Whether it’s the middle of April or the first of May, whenever it is. We’ll probably be a little bit more cautious so that we can have him at the end, instead of speeding up at the beginning.
“No need to rush things and then have a setback, then we’re looking further down the line. Where he can be healthy and he’s ready to go for the duration of the season.”
Hanson (shoulder) and Jurrjens (knee) missed most of the second half of the 2011 season, and the Braves are counting on both of them to be fully recovered for spring training and to spearhead the rotation entering 2012.
Beachy was the only incumbent starter at the camp Monday, but Hanson has worked out recently at Turner Field and McDowell got a good report from Jurrjens last week.
“Everything’s good” with Hanson and Jurrjens, McDowell said. “I talked to JJ last week. Tommy’s been in here working out. JJ says he’s ready to go and Tommy says he’s ready to go, so we’ll just prepare as if they’re 100 percent ready, which they are.”
Jurrjens, who didn’t make a start in September, working five encouraging innings in an instructional league game the day after the season ended. It would have served as his tuneup for a start in Game 3 of the division series if the Braves had advanced.
“I thought that was good for him from a mental standpoint,” McDowell said, “to be able to do that and go into the offseason knowing he was healthy.”
After hearing winter trade rumors involving left fielder Martin Prado and Jurrjens, Beachy was glad to see Jurrjens’ nameplate over his locker stall, adjacent to Beachy’s.
“I’m pleased we’ll have this guy [Jurrjens] back and Martin back,” Beachy said. “Those are two huge pieces of our team.
“I’m really confident in what we’ve got in this clubhouse and what we’re going to be able to do. We’re going to be healthy, and a lot of young guys including myself have a year of experience now.”
Also participating in the first day of camp Monday were pitching prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, both expected to compete with favorite Mike Minor for the fifth-starter job.
Teheran and Delgado were thrust into pressure situations last season after injuries to starters. Delgado had a 2.83 ERA in seven starts and Teheran had a 3.83 in three starts.
“In the heat of a pennant race, what they were able to accomplish last year gives them an idea of what they need to do to prepare for a season,” McDowell said.
Others at camp Monday included reliever Cory Gearrin, prospects J.J. Hoover and Jaye Chapman and journeyman Buddy Carlyle, a former Brave who is back on a minor league contract after spending the 2010 season in Japan and 2011 with the Yankees.