Can Kenshin be the linchpin of this reconfigured rotation?

Putting aside the malpractice perpetrated by the firm of O’Flaherty, Moylan, Boyer and Campillo, the Braves got almost everything they wanted from the first series of 2009. They won two of three against the world champs. Lots of guys got significant hits. Best of all, their starting pitchers took their turns with flair.

Eight great innings from Derek Lowe. Five-plus fine innings from Jair Jurrjens. Six passable innings from Javier Vazquez. And now Lowe gets to go again Friday night against the Nationals, and then comes the first test of the Braves’ great experiment. Kenshin Kawakami works Saturday night, and he’s the key to the rotation, which is the key to any team.

We know what to expect from Lowe and Vazquez, who’ve made careers of eating innings. We see that Jurrjens, who was really good a year ago, looks even better now. But Kawakami has never worked a real inning on U.S. soil, and we can’t yet know what he can (or can’t) do.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

He’s a precision pitcher. He has a 90-mph fastball and a nice curve. He was good in the earlier exhibitions, bad in his final preseason start at Turner Field last weekend. He walked nearly as many men (seven) as he retired (eight). Afterward he described his performance to the Japanese media — again, the helpful Daichi Takasue translated both questions and answers — as “pathetic.”

Most every club has two capable starting pitchers. The solid teams have three. The best have four. We saw that every night for more than a decade, when the Braves were throwing the likes of Leibrandt and Avery and Neagle and Millwood and overmatching the opponent’s No. 4. Kawakami can be the difference between this being an above-average rotation and a terrific one.

Yes, the Braves do have some cover in case Kawakami fizzles. They can summon Tommy Hanson from Gwinnett, or they can bump Tom Glavine up a spot — providing his arm is OK, which it isn’t quite yet — and press Jorge Campillo back into starting service. But the Braves have sunk $22 million into Kawakami, and they’d led to see a return on their outlay.

“There is some pressure,” Kawakami said, again via Takasue. “I’m going to have to go out there and pitch well.” Then this: “I’m not trying to enjoy baseball. I’m trying to pitch well.”

He’s 33. He has pitched big games before. Never has he pitched against the kind of hitters he’s about to confront. (OK, so maybe the Nats aren’t the best example.) The Braves liked what they saw in spring training — Bobby Cox: “He’s got the pitches, and he’s got real good control” — but we’re about to see if Kawakami is capable of winning at the highest level.

If he is, his new team will be just fine. If not … well, Albie Lopez is considered the recent standard for Braves’ pitching duds, and he only cost $4 million.

146 comments Add your comment

fieldofdreams

April 9th, 2009
7:51 am

He may end doing middle-relief.

Max Sizemore

April 9th, 2009
7:59 am

Japanese pitchers have generally fared quite OK in the U.S. The Braves’ bullpen will flounder, however. Not re-signing Ohman was a hideous error. The Braves have never spent money on relief pitching, which is such a vital part of the game. And it will cost them dearly this year. Again.

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
8:09 am

$22 million is a lot to pay for a middle reliever.

Mac

April 9th, 2009
8:13 am

Actually, I think Campillo got hosed by the ump. O’Flaherty, Moylan, Boyer stunk it up for the ages, though. Hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

Kawamaki was the second and less accomplished of two Japanese pitchers the Braves offered contracts to last winter, right? I hope he works out.

Hey, remember that collection of castoff relievers the Braves had a few years ago that kicked butt all year long. Then, all of them left the next season for rich deals? The front office remembers and keeps trying to duplicate it. Don’t think it’s working. They were stupid not to sign Ohman.

Leland

April 9th, 2009
8:15 am

Dear Mr. MB–I am putting aside the Wednesday night malpractice you referred to because I have not forgotten that for the past ten years when the Braves are leading in the seventh inning by at least twelve runs they win sixty-one per cent of the time. But I still don’t think the pitching breakup was any worse than Johnson, with the bases loaded, taking a called third strike that looked on television to be well within the strike zone. How in the world could an experienced major league baseball player manage such ineptness? Your pal, Leland

Leland

April 9th, 2009
8:23 am

Mr. MB–I forgot to mention an even more impressive fact–for the last thirty-seven years, when the Braves are winning by at least fifteen runs in the eighth inning, they win a stunning eighty-two percent of the time. Eighty-two percent! Your pal, Leland

dap01

April 9th, 2009
8:28 am

After yesterday, $22,000,000 is ok if he can pitch in relief. O’Flanery is terrible (look at his record). The bullpen must be addressed.

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
8:30 am

Good numbers, Leland.

And Mac, I think you’re recalling Chris Hammond and Mike Remlinger in 2002 as set-uppers for John Smoltz. That was the one year they had an iron-clad bullpen, and lo and behold the starting pitching collapsed in the first round against the Giants.

SimpleDawg

April 9th, 2009
8:38 am

3 games into the schedule and there are several strong indicators already established…..Garrett Anderson will be of little use to the Braves this year, or any year. He’s a huge defensive liability and will not play enough to make any difference on offense – Diaz needs to play LF….Jordan Schafer is off to a great start at the plate, but he’s no Andruw Jones in center field – doesn’t have the range nor the glove of AJ due to a lesser ability to track the ball and feel the wall, no instincts…..and the bull pen is bull$#!+ – what an incredibly inept display on Wednesday. Where is it written that a set up guy or closer can’t be used in a critical situation in the 7th inning when you’re trying to protect a lead?

There goes 162-0.

stamper

April 9th, 2009
8:39 am

isn’t it spelled Jurrjens?

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
8:42 am

Yes, it is, Stamper. And thanks to you, it now is spelled that way above.

Bill

April 9th, 2009
8:44 am

When will someone in the Braves organization realize that Blaine Boyer is a AAA pitcher at best?

Maniac is accurate

April 9th, 2009
8:45 am

I am recalling those folks. But, there was also a guy who had played with a Pioneer League team and a couple others who were solid, too. The three you named were not castoffs, but there was a bigger effective cast in supporting roles, too, if I remember correctly. I’ll go look it up.

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
8:46 am

Gosh, SimpleDawg, imagine if the Braves were, like, 0-3 as opposed to 2-1.

And Blaine Boyer was pretty good until he collapsed under the strain of overuse last season. Don’t think that explanation holds in April of this year, though.

TommyP

April 9th, 2009
8:49 am

You sure it’s spelled correctly, Mark? :)

Mac

April 9th, 2009
8:50 am

That Maniac guy is onto something. Ligtenberg, Moss, Hodges (?), Gryboski

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
8:50 am

Kevin Gryboski, perhaps? Darren Holmes? Tim Spooneybarger?

Here are the numbers.

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
8:54 am

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
8:57 am

Sorry for the double post, but something new just happened: I got flagged for spam on my own little blog. How revoltin’!

fieldofdreams

April 9th, 2009
9:10 am

If you think last night was a joke, just wait until (Benedict Arnold) Glavine makes a start.

dawg

April 9th, 2009
9:45 am

I see we did little to improve our middle releif. What an incredible meltdown by the bullpen. Moyan should be shipped back to AA ball he is nothing short of awful. We walked in 4 runs, do we have anybody in that bullpen capable of getting anyone out? How about just throwing strikes?

With no middle releif, this team will be lucky to finish 3rd in their division. I hope to see the front office address this issue quickly and not wait until the middle of the season, by then it will be too late.

bravesfan

April 9th, 2009
9:48 am

They offered Ohman a contract in november and the greedy ****turned it down because he though he could get more.. and then ended up getting a minor league deal from the dodgers for less when the braves had no money left. The bullpen will come around, it was there first outing against a pumped up phillies crowd and gave up 5 walks and a HBP. They will settle down and get there stuff back- alot of pressure in a difficult environment. Its a long season lets not give up on them yet! Boyer and Moylan have both proved they can get guys out.

Mike Jay

April 9th, 2009
9:50 am

Let’s relax about the bullpen. Not to make excuses as yeterday was inexcusable but most of those guys were making their first apperance this year, the umpire wasn’t helping. Moylan is coming off an injury as well so a little rust is understandable. I think the bullpen will be in fine shape as the season progresses and with the way the starters are going this year will not be as important as last year. Once Moylan gets going we have a rather nasty 1-2-3 at the tail end of it and not many teams can say that.

TROTTINGHOMETUDD

April 9th, 2009
9:51 am

after yesterdays melt down by the bullpen, Kawakami can win 15 games and we still don’t make the playoffs.

TrueBlueBrave

April 9th, 2009
9:58 am

It’s way too early to be throwing fits about anything good or bad. Even if we’d swept the Phillies, we could turn around and be swept by the Nats. It’s the nature of the game. Why don’t we give it a month and let the guys settle in a bit before anyone’s burned at the stake or handed an MVP trophy.

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
10:00 am

Ah, come on, TrueBlue. You’re being far too level-headed.

Mac

April 9th, 2009
10:02 am

Thanks Mark for the info. I thought there were some other bullpen guys who also did pretty well that year. What I didn’t remember is that Kerry Ligtenberg had 30 saves for the Braves in 1998.

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
10:05 am

You’re welcome, Mac. I remember 2002 very well because I thought the Braves had at last found the formula for postseason success. Then they were eliminated in Round 1 and the bullpen had little to do with the whole series.

TrueBlueBrave

April 9th, 2009
10:10 am

Someone’s gotta do it MB. I imagine there were plenty of Phillie “excitables” reacting similarly on their blogs after the first two games. You just can’t demand perfection everyday, nor can you define a season due to a single or even a few performances. Bobby Cox led the Braves into the post season for all those years because he was willing to give his players the latitude to get it worked out through the rough spots. There’s no reason to be upset or elated at this stage of the season. Like everyone else, I loved the first two games and I hated the outcome of the 3rd, but I force myself to keep the big picture in focus.

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
10:13 am

Still 159 games to go, as I understand it. I believe it was Earl Weaver who told Tom Boswell: “This isn’t like football. We do this every day.”

mike satx

April 9th, 2009
10:20 am

I was completely unhappy with the way things fell apart in that last game. I don’t expect that type of pitching performance to be the norm. I’m excited to see that so many of the Braves are hitting well. Who’d have thought that we’d have home runs from so many different players coming out of this first series? The rest of the league will definitely be watching out for the Braves now.

Eric from MO

April 9th, 2009
10:21 am

Yesterday was just a fluke. Now I didnt pick the Braves to win the division or make the playoffs but that isnt going to happen every game. I figure the Braves will win 87-88 games.

What ever happened to Tim Spooneybarger? He was good with the Braves and wasnt that bad with the Marlins. If I remember correctly he didnt get along with Cox or Leo. Was he just a hot head who got ran out of baseball?

Eric from MO

April 9th, 2009
10:26 am

Just wikipediaed it. Saw he had two Tommy John surgeries. That will do it. Well least he can tell his grandkids about pitching in 3 seasons in MLB. More than most people can say.

Submariner

April 9th, 2009
10:30 am

They should have passed on Kawakami, let Hanson play and signed Will Ohman! With only 2 lefty’s in the pen and only one of them half way proven, we got exposed yesterday in a big way! And why oh why do they continue to carry Lame Boyer?!!!

oldschool

April 9th, 2009
10:30 am

Personally,I thought the bullpen looked like they were scared to lose and Boyer always looks like he scared to pitch.Campillo was the only one that didn’t and he throws 82 mph fastballs.I don’t think Boyer can cut it in the majors.I like Acostas mental make up better.After Ohman pitched as many innings as he did last year I think he would be a bad sign.

pills91

April 9th, 2009
10:33 am

Like was stated above, the Braves DID try to re-sign Ohman. He never signed the offer.

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
10:36 am

You beat me to it, Eric. If you’re still interested, here are Spooneybarger’s stats.

Ginger

April 9th, 2009
10:39 am

Fire the bullpen!! It’s deja vu for how many times now?? It’s a shame the starting pitchers go out there and do their best and the Braves offense scores 11 runs and then the stinkin bullpen plays like inexperienced Little Leaguers. There are many talented pitchers in the minor leagues that need their chance. Put all the fat, cud chewing Braves bullpen pitchers out to pasture. Let them get a real job. They sure aren’t professional baseball players and are a disgrace to the Braves and the city of Atlanta.

Submariner

April 9th, 2009
10:40 am

The problem was that by the time they’d gone and gotten Lowe, Vazquez and Kawakami, there wasn’t enough cash to get Ohman at what he is worth. By not brining in Kawakami, they could have signed Ohman and filled the starting spot with Hanson. Had Wren done that, they would have been better built AND been under what they are in payroll right now.

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
10:41 am

In the Braves’ defense, you spend your money first on the rotation and then on your eighth- and ninth-inning guys. Middle relief just kind of gets filled in. Because most of the time middle relievers are working when you’re already behind. (I know, I know. Yesterday was different.)

Bottom line: There’s only so much cash to spend on a staff. Middle relievers are always the lowest-paid guys.

JeffinCT

April 9th, 2009
10:45 am

Our bullpen will be fine. Those guys hadn’t pitched in a few days and were obviously rusty. Once we get through this having an off day every other day they’ll be fine. I’m not too concerned, we dominated the Phillies 26 of the 27 innings in that little league field they call a ballpark.

Chief Nocahoma

April 9th, 2009
10:45 am

Yep, the bullpen was worse than awful. Hope this doesn’t mean Cox is going to pull a Dusty Baker(the Chicago years) and start riding the starters too hard.

Ginger

April 9th, 2009
10:48 am

JeffinCT – you can’t be rusty and be a professional baseball player. That’s why they throw bullpens most every day.

uga_b

April 9th, 2009
10:48 am

What I think gets lost in the shuffle is that we get Hudson back next year, so we could be even better in 2010. Basically swap Huddy for Glavine.

BravesFan79

April 9th, 2009
10:50 am

I believe that Wren didnt bring back Ohman… not because of lack of $, but because of personal reasons. He was probably offended that Ohman didnt accept the initial offer, and instead of offering him a 1 year deal worth 1 mill or so, he said “we can do this without you”
Even tho we ALL knew the 2 lefties in the pen in spring training were crap.

Frank Wrens pride just cost us in many ways. We just gave the Phillies life to start the season instead of opening up a 3 game lead and keeping them feeling down.
Our bullpen now makes the fairweather fans un-believers again… meaning attendance will not be as strong throught the season.
And finally the players…. loosing leads in the 7th,8th inning does nothing but demoralize a ball club, and being to stubborn to bring back one of the top lefties in the NL last year has to have some players (once again) wondering if we are REALLY serious about winning!?

Way to go Wren…. your pride will cost us wins, millions in revenue at the gates, and possibly the playoffs. But i hope you can sleep at night knowing u saved that 1 million huh Frank Wren!

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
10:55 am

In Wren’s defense, he did sign Derek Lowe. Who beat the Phillies on Opening Night.

oldschool

April 9th, 2009
10:57 am

With the Mets and the Phillies having 30 or 40 million more to spend,I think that Wren did about as good as possible.

oldschool

April 9th, 2009
10:59 am

I would much rather have spent the money on Ohman than on that gimp legged Garret Anderson.I don’t think he’s a fit on our team

stamper

April 9th, 2009
11:00 am

Mr. Bradley,

Thanks for correcting the spelling of Jurrjens… the first time. You still have it spelled ‘Jurrgens’, however, in the next paragraph.

Sorry, I’m really not this much of a stickler… but the guy did lead our team in wins/innings pitched last year – the least we could do is spell him name right.

I mean no disrespect

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2009
11:01 am

Mets’ payroll is $135 million. Philly’s is $113 million. Braves’ is $96 million.