SAN FRANCISCO – Ben Sheets gave the Braves’ pitching staff a big boost in July and thinks he could again, but not with his shoulder aching as it has in recent weeks.
The Braves’ feel-good summer story took another detour Saturday when Sheets was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right-shoulder inflammation, a day after he gave up nine hits and four runs in 4-1/3 innings of a 5-2 loss against the San Francisco Giants.
It was the third consecutive loss and fourth in five starts for Sheets (4-4), after he’d been signed off the scrap heap and won his first three starts following nearly two years out of baseball.
“If it was April, I think it’s something I could work through,” Sheets said. “But if it takes you three or four starts to work through, right now we don’t have the luxury to do that. I’m here to help. I’m not here to do anything else. I want to help this team win. Whatever we need to do.
“I know these guys want the pitcher they had at first. And given health, I can do that.”
The Braves recalled journeyman right-hander Miguel Batista from Triple-A Gwinnett to give them another arm in the bullpen.
After going 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA and .200 opponents’ average in three July starts, Sheets is 1-4 with a 5.34 ERA and .322 opponents’ average in five August starts, including 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA in his past three.
“We were trying to give him and a couple of other guys some extra time with the six-man rotation,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, adding that some outside the organization who had questioned his decision to go with a sixth starter for a couple of weeks weren’t privy to the health status of a few Braves starters.
“It’s nothing serious,” he said of Sheets’ situation. “It’s an arm that’s been out of baseball for two years. It’s a heavy workload, and it’s had some history. I don’t think it’s a major thing, but I think by him going on the 15-day DL and doing his thing – and I don’t know if that’s a shot or just rest or treatment, or whatever – could recharge him a little.”
The Braves’ six-man rotation will revert to five with Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson and Mike Minor. They would have otherwise had to make a decision whom to drop from the rotation after the current trip ends Wednesday, and Sheets’ recent struggles would’ve made him a candidate to be the odd man out anyway.
Sheets, 34, had career-threatening elbow surgery in 2010, a procedure that involved not just ulnar collateral ligament-transplant surgery (aka “Tommy John” surgery) but also the repair of other soft-tissue damage. After nearly two years away, he decided to try to pitch again after feeling good when he threw batting practice to his son.
The Braves and Yankees were among the teams that offered minor-league contracts after watching Sheets throw in a tryout. After signing with the Braves – he’s being paid the prorated portion of a $2.25 million salary, which amounts to about $1 million — and making just two minor-league starts, Sheets was inserted in the rotation after the All-Star break.
He pitched six scoreless innings in each of his first two starts and allowed just one run in six innings in his third start. Sheets surrendered 11 hits and three earned runs in his fourth start Aug. 1 against Miami, then the former fireballer did something no one would’ve thought possible years ago, failing to record a single strikeout in 7-1/3 innings of a game at Philadelphia. Still, he allowed just seven hits and one run in that win.
But since then it’s been a struggle for Sheets, who allowed 21 hits, five homers and six walks in 16-1/3 innings over his past three starts.
Asked when the shoulder became problematic, Sheets said, “It’s been a couple of starts — probably before Philly. But I mean, I still pitched a good game. But yesterday, when you make pitches and you don’t get anybody out, to me that’s kind of alarming. If I’m going to help this team, it’s going to be at 100 percent. Like I told myself, if we had three starters I could keep going out there. But we’ve got five or six. We’ve got enough to cover it right now.”
Gonzalez said he didn’t know what role Sheets would have once he comes off the DL, but mentioned that could be used as a spot starter to give another pitcher a rest.
“He pitched four wins, and some of those wins he was dominant,” Gonzalez said. “Even some games he lost, he was a tough-luck loser. So I think he can help us, where maybe two weeks down the road one of our other guys may need a blow. At that point you’ve got [expanded rosters], so you don’t have to make a move other than just say, ‘Hey, you’re not pitching today because you’re a little slow; we’ll plug in Sheets.’ Or whatever you want to do.”
Sheets said the irony was that his body overall had begun to feel better in the past week.
“My whole body had started to ache,” he said. “[But] everything has started to turn for the better. Except [the shoulder]. That got left behind… I’ve dealt with [shoulder and elbow issues] my whole life. Normally, could you pitch through it? Yeah. And you can kind of make a turn for the better. But we [Braves] don’t have that kind of time. We’ve got options. I don’t need to be going out there hoping to get somebody out.”