Braves scramble to fill out staff

March 25, 2014 

Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren undoubtedly has a big chalkboard somewhere in his office, and he certainly has had to make sure his eraser has worked with all the roster changes the past few weeks.

Never have we seen so many changes in a starting rotation. Injuries have decimated a group that once looked to be the deepest part of the Braves’ roster, only to now have it as the biggest question.

When the Braves hit Florida, the rotation was penciled in with Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood. Only Teheran and Wood will be there when the season starts Monday, with Aaron Harang and David Hale there and Ervin Santana set to join the rotation in the second week.

Minor and veteran Gavin Floyd are due back in late-April or early May, but keep that eraser handy just in case they need more time.

The bullpen might need help, too, especially with middle relief being vitally important considering the questions in the rotation. Jonny Venters is coming back from Tommy John surgery (who isn’t?), and he’ll need a couple of months before he’s ready.

Looking back at club history, the Braves have had to scramble before for pitching help late in March several times. Sometimes it has worked, and sometimes it hasn’t.

In 1986, the Braves released pitchers Len Barker, Pascual Perez, Rick Camp and Terry Forster. It happened on April 1, but it was no April fool’s joke. The Braves went with young pitchers like Joe Johnson, Duane Ward and Paul Assenmacher. Atlanta never really got on track that season despite the drastic changes.

John Smoltz blew out his elbow in 2000 at spring training, leaving the Braves with a huge hole to fill. But on April 2 that year the Braves signed John Burkett, who had been a great pitcher with San Francisco and had actually been released by Tampa Bay after a spring training tryout. Burkett filled in nicely and had two solid seasons with the Braves.

A decade ago, the Braves were in desperate need of bullpen help behind Smoltz, who had returned as a dominant reliever after his Tommy John surgery. They made trades in consecutive days to acquire Juan Cruz from the Chicago Cubs and then Chris Reitsma from Cincinnati. Cruz was great before being used in the Tim Hudson deal a year later, while Reitsma never found the same success he had in Cincinnati.

Mike Hampton had one of his many injuries in spring training back in 2007, so the Braves scrambled and signed veteran left-hander Mark Redman. It was a disaster, as Redman had an 11.63 ERA in his six games before being released.

Two years ago, the Braves brought Chad Durbin and Livan Hernandez in during spring training for bullpen help. Durbin was effective, while Hernandez ate up innings for about six weeks before being let go.

Wren deserves credit for trying to avoid a catastrophe. Santana is a solid veteran who will probably be the most dependable starter, and Harang can eat innings until the others return.

Thankfully for the Braves, Teheran and Wood have been tremendous in spring training. They’ll need to combine for at least 25 wins and 375 innings for Atlanta to have a shot.

It usually always happens. The best plans written on paper early in spring are sometimes scrapped due to injuries. The Braves’ chances for another postseason will be determined by whether these Band-Aids can save a shattered starting rotation.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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