VIERA, Fla. – The Braves’ bullpen picture became a little clearer Thursday when they traded Jairo Asencio, the pitcher formerly known as Luis Valdez, to the Cleveland Indians for cash.
Barring any trade acquisitions between now and opening Thursday’s season opener, Braves sidearmer Cory Gearrin and left-hander Yohan Flande are left as the likely choices for the final two spots in the bullpen — though Gearrin had his second consecutive rough outing Thursday against the Nationals.
Asencio, 28, was out of minor-league options and would have had to clear waivers before he could be sent to the minor leagues if he wasn’t on the Braves’ opening day roster. Rather than keep him on the roster or lose him on a waiver claim and get nothing in return, the Braves traded the Dominican right-hander.
“He’s always been a one-inning pitcher,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said, “and the [bullpen] role we envision needing to make a decision on is a multi-inning guy who can give you two or three innings at a time. That’s not something he’s ever done, so we were coming to the end with him being out of options and we looked to make a deal.”
Asencio had a 3.27 ERA in 10 spring-training appearances, allowing 13 hits, four runs and three walks with 12 strikeouts.
The former Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguer signed as a free agent with the Braves in 2007 and had an 0-1 record and 6.23 ERA in nine major league appearances over the past two seasons. He spent most of last season as the closer at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he had a 1.81 ERA and 26 saves in 47 appearances, with 70 strikeouts in 54-2/3 innings.
There have been issues off the field with Asencio, most notably the identity scandal that cost him the entire 2010 season after it was discovered he used a false identity (Luis Valdez) and claimed to be three years younger than his actual age.
He was on the restricted list for that season after being stuck in the Dominican Republic when he wasn’t immediately granted a new work visa.
The Braves’ bullpen has been mostly set since before spring training began, with closer Craig Kimbrel, lefty setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty and versatile right-handers Kris Medlen and Cristhian Martinez.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez said again Thursday that the Braves haven’t decided for sure that Medlen will be in the bullpen and not the rotation, but indications are Medlen will work in relief and Randall Delgado will get the final spot in the rotation.
After trading away Asencio and seeing Gearrin struggle again, the Braves might be even more certain about using Medlen in the bullpen because of a greater need there.
Delgado is expected to make as few as three fill-in starts before Tim Hudson returns from the disabled list in the last week of April. Hudson is recovering from back surgery and is set to start and pitch two innings Monday against the Mets in the Braves’ final Grapefruit League game.