Braves win again, now hope fallback plan can carry them

Mike Minor pitched his fourth straight strong outing for Braves, giving rotation hope. (AP photo)

Mike Minor pitched his fourth consecutive strong outing for Braves, giving rotation hope. (AP photo)

(Updated: 9:35 p.m.)

When this season started, Ben Sheets was a youth-league coach in Louisiana and Kris Medlen had pitched 2 1/3 innings in 20 months, the byproduct of Tommy John surgery. They now comprise 40 percent of the Braves’ starting rotation.

So much for the blueprint.

The Braves made official Saturday what can best be described as the backup plan: Medlen, who has been impressive out of the bullpen, will return to the starting rotation Tuesday against Houston barring an unlikely turn of events (completing a trade for a starter). Medlen joins Sheets, who hadn’t pitched a game in two years before signing with the Braves and immediately becoming subject matter for a power point at the next AMA convention.

This is the rotation that likely will guide the Braves down the stretch. It’s not quite what anybody envisioned in the spring and may not be the ideal five to get the Braves back to a postseason. But then the St. Louis Cardinals already set the standard for baseball improbabilities last October.

Kris Medlen showed up in spring training, hoping to get another shot at starting. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Kris Medlen showed up in spring training, hoping to get another shot at starting. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Sometimes Plan B’s work out. But this one needs to unfold like a parlay in a Las Vegas sportsbook.

The team’s postseason chances hinge on: 1) Tim Hudson’s ability to stay healthy; 2) Sheets continuing to defy medical logic (one earned run in 18 innings after major surgery and semi-retirement); 3) Tommy Hanson fixing some of his issues; 4) Mike Minor staying consistent after some early hiccups; 5) Medlen pitching as well in a starting role as he did coming out of the bullpen.

We’ll start with Minor, only because he just gave another performance worthy of Frank Wren screaming, “Hah! Told you we didn’t need Zach Greinke!”

After so many early-season issues, Minor is on a roll now. He allowed Philadelphia just one run on four hits in eight innings and struck out nine at Turner Field on Saturday night, leading a 2-1 victory. In his past four starts, Minor has yielded just seven runs in 27 1/3 innings.

In the past five games (four wins), Braves starters Minor (twice), Hudson, Hanson and Sheets have allowed eight earned runs in 33 innings.

That will get it done. But does asterisks by all five starters in the rotation cause some discomfort?

(The depth chart at the start of the season was Hudson-Hanson-Jair Jurrjens-Minor-Brandon Beachy, although Hudson’s back surgery forced him to miss the start of the season.)

Medlen deserved this shot, and he believes the comeback from surgery and the uncertainty of his role all season has made him mentally tougher. Physically, he said, “I feel great. I really feel like my secondary pitches are coming back. I guess it’ll be two years [since the surgery] in August. For the first month or two I felt like I was pitching with just fastball.”

Despite failing to land Greinke and having a deal for Ryan Dempster blocked, the Braves say they’re still trying to make a trade. When asked before Saturday’s game whether Sheets’ improbable ascent makes the team feel any less desperate to acquire a pitcher, manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “No, no, no. We’re looking to upgrade.”

But the reality is there’s probably nothing left on the market that would upgrade the Braves’ pitching. Greinke went to the Angels. Dempster prefers the Dodgers. (He hasn’t been moved yet, but the chances of a 180 seem remote.)

There are two other potential game-changers on the market: Miami’s Josh Johnson and Tampa Bay’s James Shields. But both have time left on their contracts after this season, so it follows the Marlins and Rays don’t feel desperate, and their trade respective requests are inflated.

There are other pitchers available. But all are depth guys – no better than what the Braves already have. So it’s probably not worth it for them to make a move.

From this point on, the Braves will rely on a rotation of 2s, 3s and 4s, their bullpen and what generally has been strong hitting (Dan Uggla’s .209 batting average notwithstanding).

Could this work? The Braves have won four straight, starting the night four games back of Washington in the National League East. Consistency has been an issue all season, particularly in starting pitching.

We’ll know soon enough if this is an aberration.

By Jeff Schultz

277 comments Add your comment

bama dawg

July 28th, 2012
6:23 pm

ok all you arm chair general managers have at it.

Josh Hutchings

July 28th, 2012
6:23 pm

The Braves rotation is not going to get them deep into the playoffs or into the playoffs for that matter. They need to go bite the bullet and get Josh Johnson or James Shields. Moving Medlen to the starting rotation now weakens the bullpen. Another early playoff exit as usual.

Scrappy

July 28th, 2012
6:25 pm

Why do I hear Hillary saying “Hope is not a strategy?”

nolakid21

July 28th, 2012
6:27 pm

Sir you are a horrible sports writer. You have no integrity and when you trolled Jonathan Vilma over the summer it showed how pitiful you are. If you could get some class and insight on the Braves then I wouldn’t care.

moboman

July 28th, 2012
6:27 pm

No dumb rent a player trades. If a guy doesn’t want to be HERE long term, we don’t need him. Tex and Drew have taught us that.

V Deuce

July 28th, 2012
6:29 pm

Dempster was nothing more than a “depth guy”. I will be absolutely ELATED if he stays in Chicago or goes ANYWHERE ELSE other than Atlanta. Wren can still go after Grienke in the offseason.

nolakid21

July 28th, 2012
6:32 pm

Ya we can still go after him in the off season and do you not realize how expensive pitching is right now Mr. Schultz? Of course you don’t.

Dawgdad (The Original)

July 28th, 2012
6:32 pm

And the beat goes on!

Why wasn’t Medlen put in the rotation after the All Star game. I do not think the Braves are real strong in player evaluation skills.

V Deuce

July 28th, 2012
6:38 pm

They stalled on starting Medlen because Venters got “hurt”. But they can try Delgado from the bullpen. They can look at Jurrjens from the bullpen. If they make the playoffs, Sheets or Minor could be able to pitch from the bullpen as well.

The Grinch

July 28th, 2012
6:38 pm

Giving up a bevy of young talent for a handful of starts from a guy who has to take abilify to pitch outside Milwaukee would have been asinine. Plus I’m not convinced we COULD assemble enough talent to overcome our manager’s ineptitude and lack of guidance. Sorry, Chipper, but Wren did the right thing. As long as we’re owned by LM and “managed” by Howdy Doody (who I fully expect to be replaced in the offseason…Wren can only afford to make so many concessions to JS), we’ve got to develop our own talent and make shrewd rather than knee-jerk moves in the mean time.

Skeptic Scott

July 28th, 2012
6:39 pm

If we have such great pitching depth in our farm system that other teams crave so badly, are you telling me that NONE of them, not a single one, can come up and help us a viable # 5 yet ?

V Deuce

July 28th, 2012
6:40 pm

Jonathan Vilma is one of the biggest trolls walking the face of the earth. And no I won’t elaborate now because this is a Braves blog.

Hawg

July 28th, 2012
6:40 pm

Coming this October… A cast of missfits attempts to lead the braves to the playoffs. Tommy “wild thing” Hanson who once walked seven men in a game.. And won. Ben “bionic” sheets whose arm has a whole chapter in the American medical book. Tim “redneck” Hudson who is countrier than country fried steak and our ace. Also starring Kris “baby face” medlen and mike “boy I’m glad I haven’t been sent to the” minors. Will this unlikely team of has beens and never hads end up in victory lane? only time will tell.

Falcons 62 - Saints 7

July 28th, 2012
6:41 pm

Enter your comments here

yert7687

July 28th, 2012
6:41 pm

medlen is a future ace and his ascent begins tuesday

The Nature Boy

July 28th, 2012
6:42 pm

If Hanson and Uggla start playing well…the Braves will be fine….BIG IF

Josh Hutchings

July 28th, 2012
6:46 pm

I repeat the Braves are now in the bullpen moving Jurjjens there. They won’t go deep in the playoffs and I’m changing my life long love to a team that actually cares to win. Go Angels!

needing attention

July 28th, 2012
6:46 pm

@nolakid21:

What got under your skin? Not too many would agree with you about Mr. Schultz’s talents. Not sure why you have to attack and be condescending, Schultz is still writing after all the cuts at the newspaper due to diminished circulation. That’s the way it is in the newspaper biz these days….the most insigthful and successful writers are generally the ones that we are reading nowadays.

But then again there is this issue abou the First Amendment.

needing attention

July 28th, 2012
6:46 pm

@nolakid21:

What got under your skin? Not too many would agree with you about Mr. Schultz’s talents. Not sure why you have to attack and be condescending, Schultz is still writing after all the cuts at the newspaper due to diminished circulation. That’s the way it is in the newspaper biz these days….the most insigthful and successful writers are generally the ones that we are reading nowadays.

But then again there is this issue abou the First Amendment.

Blue ridge Brave

July 28th, 2012
6:54 pm

Very excited about meds. Now we need to get two bullpin guys to get us to OVK. JJ doesnt project well as a rp but maybe it turns him around has worked with a lot of starters before.

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
6:58 pm

Nolakid21 — I “trolled” Jonathan Vilma? … What are you, 12?

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
7:01 pm

V Deuce — I’d say the Dempster of much of his career was a depth guy, but not the one pitching right now.

Jhutch08

July 28th, 2012
7:01 pm

Jeff Schultz…Do you think the Braves will go hard after a bullpen arm or two since moving Meds to rotation? I like the move, but I think we now need a bullpen arm or two to replace Meds and possibly Avilan.

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 28th, 2012
7:02 pm

Sure he’s a medical miracle but if you know how to pitch like Sheets, not hitting 98 on the gun is just a mere technicality.

He’s John Smoltz approved.

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
7:02 pm

Yert7687 — This is great for Medlen. Not making any predictions but he certainly deserved this shot — yes, probably sooner than now.

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
7:03 pm

Juan — Really? (Comment deleted)

Skeptic Scott

July 28th, 2012
7:04 pm

Isn’t Greinke known as a head case, one that none even John Smotlz’s sports psychologist would be able to help?

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
7:04 pm

Jhutch08 — If Medlen stays in rotation, picking up a middle-relief type arm is the logical move.

Jhutch08

July 28th, 2012
7:05 pm

Also, I forgot to add, but how about a bench guy (RH) since we don’t know the future of Matty Diaz? What about the future of Moylan?

Skeptic Scott

July 28th, 2012
7:06 pm

Okay, now I am dying to know what Juan said in his/her comment that was so bad…

Was it about AJC employees now boycotting the Chick-fil-A stands at Turner Field or something?

Mmmmm…..
I think I just realized what I want for dinner.

Rt

July 28th, 2012
7:07 pm

How can you keep Uggla in the lineup?Please give me 1 good reason!!!!!!!!!

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 28th, 2012
7:07 pm

Wren should have his nose to the ground looking for bench help.

Around The Horn

July 28th, 2012
7:08 pm

A GOOD PLAN

I like the backup plan!

Insert both J.J. and Delgado into the bullpen, and the bullpen too would be solidified in this way.

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
7:08 pm

Phillies’ lineup tonight: Catcher Eric Kratz hitting .375, Hunter Pence at .267. Everybody else is between .256 and .081. … Rollins (.281), Victorino (.256), Utley (.247), Howard (.245), Pence (.267), Wigginton (.232), Mayberry (.235), Kratz (.375), pitcher Joe Blanton (.081). …. Yikes.

Skeptic Scott

July 28th, 2012
7:09 pm

With all his bumbling as GM since taking from the legendary John Schuerholz, the only way Frank Wren could look any less intelligent and less competent were to be if he got a neck tattoo.

Rt

July 28th, 2012
7:09 pm

Put J.J. in the AA bullpen!!

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
7:10 pm

Skeptic Scott — Hah. No Chick-fil-A boycott here.
NOTHING gets between me and a Chick-fil-A breakfast biscuit.

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 28th, 2012
7:12 pm

Understand Wren is scouring the Mexican League and has scouts standing on the shore of Key West looking to deal…No, not drugs…Yet.

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
7:13 pm

For those asking, yes, belief is that Wren also looking for bench help, especially with Diaz out.

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
7:13 pm

Minor gets Utley to bounce into easy DP.

66GT

July 28th, 2012
7:14 pm

The Braves do not have the consistent Bats to take them Deep into the playoffs regardless of who they might waste a trade on. every year they try to pull off a magic trade to make the difference. Wren needs to suck it up and give our young pitchers the ball for rest of season. They need the experience. Getting rid of Delgado for a veteran “Hunch”, please…anyone remember the Lowe Trade!? We give up too many talented rookies and I know I don’t need to say who. If you are a fan you know who we gave up! Suck it up for a year and get these guys the experience they need to come back STRONG next year. This year is over as far as possible Deep playoff hopes.

Jhutch08

July 28th, 2012
7:15 pm

Final question: Do you believe the Braves will make any trade before tuesday at 4:00 PM?

1eyedJack

July 28th, 2012
7:15 pm

Quit looking for someone to come in and “save the day” and just play baseball. If you win you win, and if you lose….you don’t win.

By the way, Schultz, do you think we could find a team who is looking to increase payroll while at the same time looking to add a guy who leads the universe in strikeouts and popups and is unimpressive in the field?

BDK

July 28th, 2012
7:17 pm

I’m glad we didn’t give away the farm for Greinke as we did with Tex. And isn’t it refreshing to not hear from all the Philly trolls boasting about how great they are?

Rt

July 28th, 2012
7:18 pm

The Braves young pitchers don’t go deep enough in the game, the Bullpen can’t and wan’t hold up!!!!

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 28th, 2012
7:18 pm

Please trade for Escobar so Chipper can scratch him off the bucket list.

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
7:20 pm

Jhutch08 — “Final question: Do you believe the Braves will make any trade before tuesday at 4:00 PM?”

1) I don’t believe you; 2) I predict they’ll make two low-level deals.

SOS Braves

July 28th, 2012
7:20 pm

Bourne is striking out WAY too much.

Rt

July 28th, 2012
7:21 pm

Foget the playoffs, no way this team makes the playoffs! Stay pat and it will be a another long winter!

Jeff Schultz

July 28th, 2012
7:21 pm

1 eyed Jack — I’m not sure. Let me ask Dan Uggla.