DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Braves didn’t expect so many “crooked number” innings to come up in the battle for their final rotation spot. Innings like two that Randall Delgado endured in Saturday’s 9-0 whipping by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Adam Lind hit a three-run homer in the third inning and the Jays tacked on five runs in the fourth against Delgado, who fell to 1-3 as his ERA climbed to 7.94 in five Grapefruit League games (four starts). The 22-year-old was charged with 10 hits and eight runs (five earned) in just four innings.
He’s competing with fellow top prospect Julio Teheran, who has a 9.00 ERA in four games (two starts)
“When we’re competing for jobs we want guys to put zeroes up there,” Gonzalez said. “But just chalk it up, and when it comes to decision time we’re going to try to go with the best guy that we can.”
Gonzalez agreed Delgado’s performance was a little better than results indicated. A would-be double-play grounder was botched by second baseman Josh Wilson on the second batter of the five-run inning.
“You can’t assume a double play, but we make that play it might be a different inning,” Gonzalez said. “Still, he’s got to learn how to get through those innings and minimize the damage a little bit. But yeah, at the end of the day I think he did pitch a little better than the linescore shows.”
If Delgado or Teheran had a 3.00 ERA this spring, either right-hander could be a runaway winner by now in their duel. They’re competing for the temporary fill-in role until veteran Tim Hudson completes his rehab from back surgery and rejoins the Braves as soon as late April.
Delgado and 21-year-old Teheran, one of the two or three top-rated pitching prospects in baseball, were quickly relegated to competing for the Hudson fill-in spot when lefty Mike Minor came out putting up the kind of zeroes Gonzalez referenced.
Minor had 14 scoreless innings in his first four starts to secure the rotation vacancy that isn’t going away when Hudson returns.
In the race for the other spot, Delgado was thought to have a lead over Teheran before Saturday, a pitch day for both of them. Teheran had originally been scheduled to start against Toronto and Delgado in a minor league game Saturday (earlier in the spring the two “piggybacked” in the same game or started in split-squad games the same day).
But Teheran had some arm soreness after his last start, so Delgado started against the Jays and Teheran threw a 25-pitch side session at about 75-percent effort at Braves came in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. That went well and Teheran is set to throw another bullpen at full effort Tuesday, then start a split-squad game Friday.
Against the Blue Jays, Delgado worked around one-out singles in the first and second innings, coaxing a pair of fly balls after the first hit and getting help in the second when catcher David Ross threw out Colby Rasmus attempting to steal second with two out.
He ran into trouble in the third after a leadoff single by 44-year-old Omar Vizquel, who advanced on a hit-and-run grounder and a wild pitch. After a one-out walk by ex-Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar, Delgado got slugger Jose Bautista to pop out for the second out.
Then Adam Lind crushed a full-count hanging curveball for a three-run homer. The curve is Delgado’s third-best pitch.
“The three-run homer I can live with that,” Ross said. “But the five-run inning we kind of got a double play ball that didn’t get made, then he had to pitch out of some jams and gave up some hits. But he threw the ball well. I know it’s a five-run inning, but if he pitches like that he’ll be fine…. His curveball is still coming along. He threw some good ones to strike out Yunel, but he hung a couple. He knows that. But fastball is sinking good, changeup is good.”
In the fourth inning, J.P Arenciba hit a leadoff single and Travis Snider followed with a grounder that Wilson misplayed, turning two potential two outs to none. Vizquel singled to load the bases before Johnson, the ex-Braves second baseman, cleared them with a double that pushed the lead to 6-0.
“I think the location of the pitches was good, but maybe a little bit up,” said Delgado, who was asked about his spring performance and if he deserved to be on roster. ““I don’t know. I just try to take all the opportunities that I can….
“For me, the point is to be healthy and work on my pitches. I try not to worry and just make my pitches.”
Gonzalez said he might wait longer to decide between Delgado and Teheran, since the Braves open the season April 5 but won’t need a fifth starter until April 11 in the sixth game. Because there’s no game April 6, the opening-day starter – Gonzalez hasn’t made that decision yet either – can come back to pitch on regular rest April 10 in the fifth game.
A fifth starter will be needed for the sixth game of the season, because the Braves aren’t going to bring back their No. 2 starter on short rest April 11 after making his season debut April 7.