Fredi Gonzalez said Wednesday night that he thought Mike Minor threw very well — for three innings. Which he did. Minor carried a no-hitter into the fourth. He was gone five outs later, having yielded seven base runners in the span of 10 Miami batters. For the fourth consecutive start, Minor was charged with at least six earned runs. His ERA rose to 7.09.
It’s clear that Minor is becoming a bit of a mess. After Wednesday’s game he said he let down his teammates, the organization and the fans. He said he didn’t want the other Braves looking at him wondering if this start was going to be as bad as last week’s, didn’t want them thinking they’d have to score a lot of runs to win — which had happened both at Colorado and St. Louis — just because Minor is pitching.
Minor is hard on himself, and you can see why. Last month he worked 7 1/3 one-hit innings against Milwaukee, which can hit, and followed that with eight strong innings in Arizona. After three starts, his ERA was 3.10. The past four starts have been awful — 20 2/3 innings, 32 hits (plus 10 walks), 27 earned runs. He’s still striking out people (23 K’s in those 20 2/3 innings), which suggests his stuff isn’t the issue. “I’m just making too many non-competitive pitches,” Minor said Wednesday.
Clearly the Braves want Minor to succeed. You’ll recall that Jair Jurrjens was shipped to Gwinnett after four similarly bad starts. The difference: Jurrjens was bad in spring training, too; Minor was actually quite good in Florida. Minor has at least given the Braves a reason to think he can get people out.
That said, this can’t go on forever. When Minor falls apart, he falls apart completely. Omar Infante led off the fourth with a line single to left, the Marlins’ first hit. Minor then hit Hanley Ramirez in the back and yielded a two-run double to Austin Kearns, whom he would strike out twice. Miami scored three runs in the fourth. The fifth began with singles by Jose Reyes and Infante and would produce three more runs. One bad inning begat another, and soon Minor was gone and his team was facing a five-run deficit.
The Braves’ hitting has been such that they’ve managed to win a few such games, but you’re not going to outslug everybody all the time. The Braves’ starting rotation has the second-worst ERA among National League teams, leading only Colorado. The reasons for that alarming number are Jurrjens, who’s no longer on the 25-man roster, and Minor, who’s still in the rotation.
It’s weird. All spring everyone was worried that the Braves wouldn’t hit, but they have. At issue now is the commodity that seemed to be a given — starting pitching. But what to do about Minor?
“Keep running him out there,” said Gonzalez, the manager, and there really aren’t many other options. Jurrjens just yielded 12 hits and 10 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Class AAA Buffalo Bisons. Moving Kris Medlen from relief wouldn’t do anything to sort out Minor and would mess up the bullpen to boot. Promoting Julio Teheran from Gwinnett would leave the big-league club without a left-handed starter, which isn’t what anybody has in mind.
The good thing is that the Braves aren’t in free-fall. They’ve lost one game in a row to fall a half-game out of first place. For all Minor’s struggles, they’ve worked around most of them, winning five of his eight starts. Over the long haul though, they need him to be a lot better. They need a lefty, and he’s the only one of those on the horizon.
There’s also this: The Braves didn’t draft this Vanderbilt lefty No. 7 overall in 2009 because they thought he’d look spiffy in middle relief. They did it because they thought he would be a big-league starting pitcher very soon. Sure enough, he’s one now. Just not a very good one.
By Mark Bradley