Former All-Star pitcher Ben Sheets, trying to make it back to the majors after two elbow surgeries, signed a minor league contract with the Braves and will make his first start Wednesday for Double-A Mississippi.
The former Milwaukee Brewers standout, who’ll be 34 on July 18, missed the 2011 season recovering from “Tommy John” elbow surgery and last pitched with Oakland in 2010. The Braves have been turning over every rock looking for pitching help.
“You look at him being a guy who, if the progression goes as we hope, that he could join our rotation in the next few weeks,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said after watching Sheets throw a bullpen session Sunday morning at Turner Field. “No definitive time, just the next few weeks. What we just saw in the bullpen was very impressive.”
Sheets’ agent let the Braves know he was interested a few weeks ago, and Sheets threw Thursday at Georgia Tech in front of officials from the Braves and several other teams.
“He threw a five-inning simulated game at Georgia Tech,” said Wren, noting that Sheets’ fastball velocity was 91-92 during the session. “We saw enough that we were very impressed. The velocity was pretty close to what we’ve come to know in the past as Ben Sheets and the quality of breaking stuff – he’s always had a very good curveball and change-up – it was all the more impressive.”
The Braves have been looking far and wide for pitching help due to Brandon Beachy’s season-ending elbow surgery and the struggles of young starters Randall Delgado and Mike Minor. They are also exploring a trade for a proven starter before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, with the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza and Milwaukee ace Zack Greinke among those they’ve discussed.
Wren said Sheets would make a couple of Double-A starts, “and then we’ll re-evaluate where he is.We don’t think he’s too far off from being able to help us.”
Sheets last pitched in the majors with Oakland in 2010, when he made 20 starts and 4-9 with a 4.53 ERA before going on the disabled with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He missed the 2009 season while recovering from surgery for a torn flexor tendon in the elbow.
The four-time All-Star has a 90-92 career record and 3.79 ERA in 241 career starts over nine seasons, with 1290 strikeouts in 1547-1/3 innings.
Sheets spent his first eight seasons with the Brewers through 2008, collecting seven double-digit win seasons despite a string of injuries in the latter half of that period. He had a career-best 13-9 record with a 3.09 ERA in 2008, but his best season was 2004, when he was12-14 with a 2.70 ERA, piled up a career-high 264 strikeouts with only 32 walks in 237 innings, and finished eighth in the National League Cy Young balloting.
A native of Baton Rouge, La., Sheets was a first-round draft selection (10th overall pick) by the Brewers in 1999.