(Updated: 11:44 p.m.)
Let’s start with the really good news about the Braves’ starting rotation.
Tim Hudson has looked relatively bionic in the past two months. Brandon Beachy has been far north of a rookie who wasn’t expected to be more than a fifth starter this season. Derek Lowe: Not awful again.
And even with Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson suddenly incapacitated, the Braves would have to lose, like, 27 more pitchers to a swarm of flesh-eating gnats from Neptune before they would even consider calling up Kenshin Kawakami (presumably the owner of the only Maserati in Pearl, Miss.)
But are you feeling just a little uncomfortable? General manager Frank Wren spends weeks trying to improve the team’s once struggling and dented lineup, spins a trade for Michael Bourn, makes a few other deals. Dan Uggla rises from a $62 million pile of ashes, everybody gets healthy, the lineup starts hitting – and then somebody drops a piano on the team’s starting rotation.
There’s something wrong with Jair Jurrjens’ knee, and there’s a pretty decent chance we’ve seen the last of him this season. There’s something wrong with Tommy Hanson’s shoulder, and while it looks like he will return, power pitchers with shoulder issues can be problematic – and unsettling in a pennant race.
As Wren said Friday, “It’s not the way we planned it. Obviously, we would prefer to have the starters we started the season with. J.J. made the All-Star team. Tommy Hanson deserved to make the All-Star team. When you lose two guys like that, for whatever amount of time that is, your team takes a hit.”
The Braves have taken a hit. They’ve gone a World Series-worthy top four pitching rotation — Hudson-Jurrjens-Hanson-Lowe/Beachy — to just a pretty good one. The wow factor will have to be created somewhere else. But if Braves survive this, Beachy will play a major role.
He used to be a luxury item – a rookie fifth starter with 13 quality starts in 20 outings. Now he’s indispensable. He showed again why Friday night against Los Angeles. He held the Dodgers (who came in having won nine of their previous 10) to three runs on four hits in six innings. He faced the minimum of nine batters through three innings and struck out the side in the fifth. In the sixth, with two Dodgers on base and a run in, Beachy got Andre Either to pop up and retired Aaron Miles on a lazy fly ball.
He left after the sixth, leading 5-3. But when reliever Arodys Vizcaino got body slammed for five runs in the L.A. seventh, Beachy’s chance for his eighth win in 10 decisions evaporated. The Braves went on to lose 8-6.
Still, as the Braves are scrambling in September, Beechy is doing his part. His 14 quality starts (three runs or less allowed in at least six innings) rank third on the team, behind only Hudson (21) and Jurrjens (16). He has lost only twice in 21 starts.
Beach said he “didn’t feel as sharp as usual” against the Dodgers — he walked three and hit a batter, with his seven strikeouts — but added, “I felt good about getting out of that sixth inning. But I’ll always come back to I don’t need to get into those jams, especially when it comes from me giving free passes.”
When asked about his sudden climb in the rotation, he said, “I go out there each time the same way with the same approach. Regardless of what position you want to put me in or how you want to label it, it’s not going to change the effort I’m giving.”
He could’ve used some help. Vizcaino (5 runs, 4 hits, 2 walks in one-third of inning) was a grease fire. Wren is operating on the assumption that the bullpen generally will be better than that when a starter goes six innings.
“A lot of teams need to lengthen their starters because they don’t have the bullpen we have,” Wren said. “We can shorten games. With the way things are going with our starters, we’re going to need to do that.”
That bullpen blueprint sort of fell apart Friday. Wren didn’t see that one coming.
Then again, nobody saw the canon ball-size hole in the rotation coming either.
By Jeff Schultz