After kicking around the idea for about a week, the Braves decided to go through with it, and plan to use a six-man pitching rotation when Tommy Hanson returns from the disabled list for a Friday start against the Dodgers.
A lot can change before then, but as of Monday manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Braves plan to go with six starters twice through the rotation until an off day Aug. 30. Then the Braves would go back to the traditional five-man rotation for September.
This way, in the midst of 20 consecutive games, he can build in an extra off day for each of the starters in addition to keeping Kris Medlen in the rotation, where Medlen has had undeniably good results since moving in from the bullpen.
“With our situation right now at this stage of the season and some of our health concerns…we’re going to do it,” Gonzalez said. “…We need to be able to go into September with all the cylinders hitting and everybody healthy and this is one way to keep those guys healthy.”
Tim Hudson has been pitching for two months with bone spurs in his left ankle. Ben Sheets is six starts into his comeback from two years out of baseball following two extensive operations on his elbow. And Hanson has had his back flare up twice in the past month, starting at the All-Star break.
Hanson will be followed by Sheets and Mike Minor against the Dodgers, and Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm and Medlen will pitch against the Nationals. Gonzalez said come Aug. 31 against the Phillies, the Braves will return to a traditional five-man rotation.
“Then we’ll go with our best five, whichever the best five are,” Gonzalez said. “Or the healthiest five.”
As for the immediate roster decision, the Braves won’t have to make that until Friday when they activate Hanson. They haven’t decided whether to go short a bullpen arm or a position player.
“We’re still kicking that around,” Gonzalez said. “I would like to keep the bullpen intact just because of that reason: somebody goes three (innings) and you’ve got a bullpen arm short, now we’re back to square one. But we’re still working through it.”
Medlen was the most obvious choice to return to the bullpen, given his history as a reliever, but keeping him in the rotation is affirmation of how effective he’s been. He is 2-0 with a 1.62 ERA in three starts since rejoining the rotation.
The Braves have won 16 of Medlen’s last 17 starts, dating back to 2010 after he moved into the rotation for an injured Jair Jurrjens and before he tore his elbow ligament. That stretch includes 14 straight wins for the Braves.
“I just accepted my role,” Medlen said. “Whatever skill set I have, try to apply it to whatever I’m doing on the mound, whether it’s starting or relieving. I just try to stay aggressive and stay confident and try to get guys out.”
The key now will be for each of the starters to work deep into games. Since the beginning of August, Braves starters have pitched at least six innings in eight of 11 games entering Monday night. Of the three short outings, one was caused by a rain delay when Mike Minor pitched on Aug. 2, and one on Aug. 5 was when Medlen went 5 1/3 innings as he continued to build up his arm.
“Obviously you’re borrowing from the bullpen,” Medlen said. “But if we stay pretty consistent, which we have been going deeper into games and helping the bullpen out, it shouldn’t be that big of a problem.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez originally planned to give Chipper Jones a rest day Monday night against the Padres, but the veteran third baseman wanted back in the lineup. Jones missed Friday night’s game in New York unexpectedly after waking up with a stiff back. Gonzalez said he would rest Jones another game in this series against the Padres, possibly Tuesday or Wednesday.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons was hopeful after a being examined by hand specialist Dr. Gary Lourie on Monday evening that he could begin some light throwing soon. Simmons has been doing physical therapy for more than a week now since he had the cast removed on his right hand. He’s not likely to return to action from a fractured fifth metacarpal until early September.
“I can pretty much do everything with it,” said Simmons, who was still wearing a splint on Monday. “It’s still a bit sore, have got to stretch it out a bit still but feels great.”