(Staff writer Carroll Rogers is filling in for David O’Brien today.)
Update: Braves have optioned Cory Gearrin to Triple-A Gwinnett and recalled RHP Anthony Varvaro.
So Kris Medlen has thrown his three starts in Triple-A Gwinnett. He’s stretched out to 97 pitches, after throwing six innings last night in Pawtucket. He gave up three runs on six hits, including a home run, and four walks. He went 97 pitches (56 strikes).
He is 0-2 with a 4.73 ERA in Gwinnett. He gave up only one run for the first six innings last night, and perhaps when he was starting to tire a bit in the seventh, gave up a single and a two-run homer to former Gwinnett Brave Mauro Gomez.
It’s pretty clear now, especially after three straight losses, that the Braves could use him back, and my guess is it won’t be long. The question now is in what capacity?
Based on the past three games, it’s almost as if the Braves could use Medlen’s help in relief again. Both Randall Delgado and Mike Minor have pitched pretty well of late – and last night Minor put up maybe his best major league start yet against a lethal Yankees lineup and should have had the win, after shutting them out for 7 1/3 innings before getting charged with a run when the runner he left for Jonny Venters scored in the six-run eighth.
Delgado is two starts removed from dominating the Marlins for 6 1/3 innings, allowing only two hits and a run. Then on Monday night, without his best stuff, and feeling the rush of pitching against the Yankees in front of 40,000 plus, Delgado did well to limit the damage to three runs in five innings. The Braves have listed Delgado as their scheduled starter to pitch Sunday against the Orioles.
So Minor in his past two starts: 1-0, 1.46 ERA, two earned runs in 12 1/3 innings, nine hits, one homer, six walks, eighth strikeouts and a .200 opponents’ batting average.
Delgado in his past two starts: 1-1, 3.18 ERA, four earned runs in 11 1/3 innings, seven hits, one homer, seven walks, 12 strikeouts, .171 opponents’ batting average.
So between those two, who would you send down?
You don’t want to move Delgado or Minor into the bullpen. You’d rather have them continue to stay in starting mode so you can have them as insurance if there’s an injury or Tim Hudson (ankle) or Brandon Beachy (elbow) needs to skip a start.
Then you consider that the Braves bullpen is short right now. Manager Fredi Gonzalez revealed last night that Eric O’Flaherty has been dealing with some elbow soreness, which is why he couldn’t go to him in the eighth, and he is probably unavailable for a few more days.
So maybe it makes the most sense to plug Medlen back in the bullpen, at least for the short term. But then haven’t you wasted the past 15 days?
So what do you do?
It’s a tough decision with no overwhelming answer and probably why Gonzalez didn’t have one last night. “We can talk about that tomorrow,” he said. “Let’s not take anything away from Mikey (Minor) today. He did a terrific job.”
As to whether Medlen could return in either role, starter or reliever, Gonzalez said: “We haven’t even discussed that (yet).”
Perhaps we’ll get a little more clarity on that front later this afternoon.
As for clarity on last night’s loss, that could be harder to come by. Giving up a 4-0 lead with five outs to go to the Yankees and watching Alex Rodriguez hit a grand slam home run off Venters was stunning. Don’t think there’s any question that was the toughest loss of the year for the Braves and worse than any of the eighth in a row during the recent losing streak.
You know the folks I thought about? The Braves fans in attendance at Turner Field, who bought tickets and showed up to cheer on their team and were surrounded by louder Yankee fans, who were going nuts at the time. They weren’t the ones who let the place get overrun with Yankee fans. They showed up.
Anyway, I digress. Venters is still obviously struggling to find some comfort with his pitches, and while he’d been better of late, he hadn’t been in that big of a pickle since maybe the week before in Washington, and he gave up a run on that day in relief of Beachy, on June 2.
We now know that O’Flaherty wasn’t available either way to come on and face Alex Gonzalez. As for Craig Kimbrel, and bringing him on early in the eighth, it seems that’s just a route that the Braves haven’t gone with him, especially considering how big of a goal it was this season not to overwork the back end of the bullpen.
As DOB pointed out on twitter today, Kimbrel has made 123 career appearances and only twice has he gone more than one inning – one of those was a blown save on April 21, 2011 vs. the Dodgers. The other time was June 15, 2010 against Tampa while Billy Wagner was the Braves closer.
And Kimbrel is not a Mariano Rivera-type, who can get groundball outs with one or two pitches. Kimbrel is a high strikeout, high-pitch count reliever.
The other option instead of Cory Gearrin was Chad Durbin. He’s the more veteran guy and had been pitching well – he’s made 15 straight scoreless appearances – but he had pitched the previous two days and four of the previous five.
Regardless, Venters didn’t get it done, questions abound, and the Braves are back to four games behind the Nationals now, as far back as they’ve been since May 28 after their eighth straight loss.
So the Braves turn to their stopper of recent years and ace Tim Hudson.
Hudson vs. Kuroda.
If there’s anybody on the Braves staff who won’t get freaked out by facing the Yankees, this would be your guy. Hudson has faced the Yankees 10 times in his career, nine times in his years with Oakland. He’s 1-3 but with a 3.78 ERA against them.
He lost to the Yankees the last time he faced them in 2006 (five runs in five innings on June 26 in New York), in the midst of the worst season of his career (13-12, 4.86 ERA). But that was only the third time he pitched fewer than seven innings in those 10 starts against the Yankees.
Hudson takes the mound tonight on seven day’s rest, pitching for the first time since his complete game shutout June 5 against the Miami Marlins. And if you saw him hobbling to first base on his single in the ninth inning that night, and wondered if 36 was looking a little old these days, we now know that he was running on a gimpy wheel.
Some chronic bone spurs in his left ankle flared up and Hudson admits now to pitching that game on smoke-and-mirrors. He’s hopeful that a week of rest, a cortisone shot and anti-inflammatory dose pack will have him back where he needs to be.
Based on how Hudson was talking after his bullpen session on Monday, he won’t be 100 percent. He was using words like “good enough.” But he is a good deal better than when coming off his St. Louis start.
He’ll face Hiroki Kuroda, the former Dodger, who is 5-6 but leads the Yankees staff in ERA at 3.46. The 37-year-old shutout the Mets for seven innings in his last start and has allowed only two runs in 22 innings over his past three starts. The Yankees have scored only six runs combined in his past five losses.
Kuroda has had some hard luck against the Braves too, going 1-4 in five starts despite a 2.10 ERA. He pitched a one-hit shutout against them on July 7, 2008 to get his only win.
A spot of good news, and other stuff
Hey, surely you could use some. And that would be with Brian McCann, who said two nights ago he’d made a mechanical adjustment, and he’s been all over the ball the past two nights. He crushed three balls on Monday night, to the track in center, nearly over the wall in right, and up the first base line and caught by Mark Teixeira.
Then last night he doubled twice off the lefty C.C. Sabathia. By my math, that was McCann’s first game with multiple extra-base hits since April 13 when he doubled and homered against Randy Wolf and the Milwaukee Brewers.
McCann is not big into telling us what his adjustments are; he gets squeamish about delving into specifics. But he reminded of that “In My Own Words” segment he did, where he talks about when he and his dad worked on something when he was in Single-A Rome, and he said “I’m about to get hot.” It’s like he knew. So maybe this is one of those times.
Couple other tidbits, last night the Braves passed the 62-game mark, which means there are only 100 more regular season games where we’ll have a chance to see Chipper Jones out there at third base. Something to think about.
Also, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told MLB Network radio today that he thinks Chase Utley will return July 2, 3, or 4. The Braves play at Philadelphia on July 6, 7 and 8.
1. Bourn 8
3. McCann 2
4. Uggla 4
5. Jones 5
6. Heyward 9
7. Hinske 3
8. Simmons 6
9. Hudson 1