The phrase “You can never have too much pitching” is unfortunately used when a team realizes that no matter how much depth it has in a rotation or a bullpen, it’s usually still not enough.
A few weeks ago, it looked like the Atlanta Braves were stacked. They had five starters tentatively set, with veteran Freddy Garcia as a backup option and fellow veteran Gavin Floyd due back from elbow surgery in late May or early June.
But then, the dominoes started to fall. Mike Minor has been slowed down by shoulder issues. Brandon Beachy didn’t look real sharp in his first two starts, and then Monday, he went only half of his expected four innings. And on Sunday, projected opening day starter Kris Medlen ran off the mound in Port St. Lucie with something wrong with his elbow.
And just like that, the Braves’ rotation is in shambles.
Minor is holding out hope he can be back to pitch in the fifth starter’s position in the second week of the season. But it’s March 12, and he hasn’t pitched an inning in spring training yet, so there should be skepticism.
Beachy will see how his elbow bounces back from the tightness he experienced Monday, but he has yet to pitch more than three innings in one game. This is another setback, and he’s now 21 months out from his Tommy John elbow surgery.
The Medlen injury is the serious kick to the gut. Medlen had embraced the responsibility of being the leader of the rotation, with Tim Hudson now in San Francisco. Even though he’s only 28, Medlen is the most tenured member of the Atlanta rotation. He seemed determined to tackle the role of staff ace head-on.
And there’s no reason to think Medlen would have struggled in that roel. Since he returned from his first Tommy John surgery, Medlen has the second best ERA in baseball behind Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. If that’s not pitching like an ace, what is?
Now it’s very possible the opening day rotation could consist of Julio Teheran (who has 34 career starts), Alex Wood (who has 11 career starts), Freddy Garcia (a 37-year old who hasn’t made more than 30 starts since 2006) and David Hale (who made his first two big league starts late last season).
That is a crisis of gigantic proportions.
But the Braves should not panic and sign free agent Ervin Santana, who is looking for a one-year deal after not finding the long-term contract he first sought. Santana is a good pitcher, but he’s not great. The investment is just too large, including giving up a much-needed first-round draft pick that could instead go to helping a depleted farm system.
Instead, the Braves should trade for someone like Detroit’s Rick Porcello, who is available and could be more affordable than someone like Chicago Cubs Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija.
The Braves must hope Minor or Beachy can return by mid-April. That would at least complete the five-man rotation. Can they survive until Floyd returns in either late-May or early-June? Well, it’ll be a challenge, and that will make them check the trade market closely.
Medlen was the ace, and any time a team loses an ace, it’s going to be a struggle. Sure, he wasn’t Greg Maddux, but Medlen was still going to be counted on for 200 innings and 15 wins. That in itself would be tough to overcome, but the questions surrounding Minor and Beachy will be in place until they prove they are ready for a full workload.
Everyone thought it was going to be tough for the Braves to repeat as NL East champions, but no one could have expected this even before the season starts.
They’ll probably go get someone, and somehow this will probably be less catastrophic than it seems right now. But it’s clear we have the first story line for the Braves this season.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.