After Brandon Beachy left the game for recurring soreness in his pitching elbow, the Braves could only hope that Saturday night’s losses weren’t a lot worse than merely a 5-0 defeat against the Baltimore Orioles.
Beachy, the major league leader in ERA among starting pitchers, left with two outs in the fourth inning of a then-scoreless game. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said Beachy would have an MRI on Sunday or Monday, as soon as they can get him in for the exam that will reveal if there is damage to the ligament or other soft tissue.
“We’re going to get the MRI and hope,” Beachy said. “Hope for the best.”
The 25-year-old pitched on three extra days’ rest after having what he and the Braves described as minor soreness in his previous start June 8 against Toronto. Beachy said there was some discomfort in the early innings Saturday, “but nothing serious.”
He retired the first 11 batters he faced, including five strikeouts, before walking Chris Davis with two out in the fourth inning. He threw two early curveballs in the dirt against Davis, and Beachy’s fastball velocity was only 86 for another pitch against Davis.
“When I stopped Davis off with those curveballs, I felt it,” he said. “I knew. I knew it was different than it had been before, so we needed to stop.”
After walking Davis on six pitches, Beachy signaled to catcher Brian McCann to come to the mound. He said the discomfort was worse this time than during his previous start.
“I would have kept pitching if it wasn’t,” he said.
Gonzalez saw Beachy signal to McCann and the manager immediately went with a Braves trainer to the mound. Beachy didn’t throw another pitch.
“I thought he looked great until the last batter,” Gonzalez said. “When he walked Davis his velocity went straight down. He was throwing pretty good and all of a sudden that velocity, the last pitch he threw was 88, 89… He brought Mac out. Mac looked in the dugout and I said something was wrong. There was no sense at that point to even try to throw another pitch.”
Braves center fielder Michael Bourn said, “His health comes first. He needs to take it easy. He’s too good to try to be pushing it out there if it’s still hurting him. All of us, all 24 other guys want him out there, but he’s got to be healthy first.”
Reliever Anthony Varvaro walked the next two batters and gave up a two-run single to Mark Reynolds before getting out of the inning. The first run was charged to Beachy, who also took the loss after the Braves failed to score in their fifth loss in six games.
The Braves didn’t even get a hit until the seventh inning against Orioles starter Jason Hammel (7-2), who threw a complete game in 103 pitches. Jason Heyward’s two-out single was their only hit of the night.
“All in all, honestly we want to win ballgames; that’s what we set out to do,” Heyward said. “But to lose your starting pitcher, to lose Beach tonight … it’s really unfortunate.”
If Beachy’s injury forces him to miss significant time, the Braves have Kris Medlen available to replace him in the starting rotation. However, Gonzalez indicated that if Beachy only misses a start or two Medlen might remain in the bullpen and another starter could fill in.
Medlen just got back from a two-week stint at Triple-A Gwinnett, after being pulled from the Braves’ bullpen in order to get “stretched out” and ready to start.
The Braves had two young pitchers struggling at the time that Medlen was sent to Gwinnett, and both Mike Minor and Randall Delgado improved significantly in recent starts, leading team officials to put Medlen back in the bullpen this week after recalling him from Gwinnett.
The Braves on Friday designated for assignment veteran pitcher Livan Hernandez, who struggled mightily as a reliever this season after a long career as a starter. That move was made to open a spot for Medlen in the bullpen.
The Braves can ill afford to lose Beachy, whose performance this season has been far greater than his record (5-5) indicates. He has been one of the top starting pitchers in the National League.
“Any time you lose a pitcher who’s leading the league in ERA, that’s tough,” McCann said.
The former undrafted free agent began Saturday as the major league ERA leader (1.98) among starters and was second in opponents’ average (.178), third in opponents’ slugging percentage (.269) and second in the National League in opponents’ on-base percentage (.255).
Beach is 0-4 with a 3.33 ERA in his past five starts, after going 5-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his previous seven. The reversal of fortunes began after his five-hit shutout in career-high 122 pitches at Miami on May 17.
He’s pitched five innings or fewer in three of five starts since then, after pitching six or more in each of the previous seven starts including seven or more innings in four.