PITTSBURGH – When Ben Sheets starts the final game of the Braves’ regular season on Wednesday, it will likely be the last game of the veteran pitcher’s impressive though injury-plagued career.
He’s not considered a candidate for the Braves’ postseason roster, and Sheets said “for sure, 100 percent, I’m not going to play next year.”
Sheets, 34, was an improbable feel-good story of the summer, signing a minor-league contract with the Braves after being away from baseball for nearly two years following the second of his major elbow surgeries.
He was brought up after just two minor league starts and went 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA in his first three starts for the Braves and 4-1 with a 1.41 ERA in his first five, plugging a hole and excelling when the Braves were dealing with a couple of injuries in the rotation.
“At a time when we needed a little bit of a lift, he gave us a boost,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “Really, getting those four wins, those were critical.”
But his shoulder had begun aching and worsened quickly. Sheets went 0-3 with a 7.70 ERA in his next three starts and landed on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation Aug. 25, the day after his last start.
He hasn’t pitched in a game since then, though he was available out of the bullpen for the past two weeks. Sheets had intended to simply retire in the offseason without any announcement, but when a reporter asked Friday if he planned to pitch next season, he answered.
“It was just something that I could feel coming,” Sheets said of the decision. “I honestly believe I could rehab this offseason and come back and last. But there comes a time when you’ve just got to go home, man…. I’m ready to be a dad. I got to do that for a couple of years and I really liked it. I mean, I’ve been here three months, playing on a great team with great guys, and doing something special this year. It’s still hard being away from [his kids].”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez didn’t know that Sheets intended to retire after the season when he named him to start Wednesday’s game in place of Tim Hudson. Because the Braves lost to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, taking them out of the running for the NL East title, Gonzalez bumped Hudson from the rotation in order to have him rest and be ready to start Sunday in a potential Division Series opener if the Braves win the Wild Card game.
Gonzalez said Sheets would pitch a couple of innings Wednesday, followed by rookies Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran. The start will be the 250th of his career for Sheets, a former Milwaukee ace who has a career record of 94-96 with a 3.78 ERA and 1,323 strikeouts in 1,595-2/3 innings.
Despite losing his rotation spot after the DL stint and not being used in a game since returning, Gonzalez said Sheets had retained his colorful, upbeat personality and remained a positive presence in the clubhouse.
“He’s been terrific, he really has,” said Gonzalez, who had not been informed Sheets intended to retire after the season. “You can’t ask for more, from what he did for us and the way he’s handled the situation. Let him start the last game of the season, show that he’s healthy, as healthy as he can be. Show that if he wants to play next season, he could.”
Sheets is 4-4 with a 3.54 ERA in eight starts for the Braves, and the Louisiana native said the comeback was well worth the effort — even if took a detour after only five weeks in the majors.
“Hell, yeah. You know how much cooler I am now that I was an Atlanta Brave,” Sheets said in his thick Southern drawl. “You just never know, man. I might come back in two years… No, I’m kidding. I’m totally kidding on that.”