Bill Shanks

Remember the purpose of Atlanta’s veteran starters

R.A. Dickey is one of the elder statesmen Atlanta is using until younger pitchers are ready.
R.A. Dickey is one of the elder statesmen Atlanta is using until younger pitchers are ready. AP

The Braves believed the pitching staff would be better this season. After having issues late last season that were overcome by a great offense, Atlanta’s pitching has again been a problem.

Through Friday’s game, a 10-0 loss to the Cardinals, the Braves now own the worst team earned run average in baseball at 4.94. The starter’s ERA is 4.59, while the bullpen is a run worse at 5.59.

Bartolo Colon has received the most criticism from the fans. He’s almost 44 years old, and many wonder if he’s starting to show his age. Colon has allowed 23 runs in his 33 innings during his six starts for an ERA of 6.27.

At some point, someone that old simply starts to break down, and it’s logical to wonder if that’s happening with Colon. His sinker has not been effective, and since Colon can no longer blow hitters away with a fastball, the sinker is crucial to his potential success.

We need to remember something about Colon. He wasn’t brought to Atlanta to pitch the seventh game of the World Series. He was brought in to eat innings, hopefully have the same success he’s had with the Mets the past three years and to bridge the gap until the young pitching prospects are ready.

The Braves wanted an improved rotation, but they were in a difficult spot. With young pitchers knocking on the door, they didn’t need to invest in long-term deals or bring in pitchers with years under control. They needed stopgaps, and that’s what Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia are.

Dickey and Garcia have been decent — not great but nothing like Colon. Between the three of them, they’ve made 16 starts and eaten 92 innings. They are fulfilling their main purpose to give the young prospects more time to develop.

I know fans get tired of hearing about prospects, but the Braves are still in year three of a rebuilding process. They may not say it as much this year because they want to win this season. They’ve got a new stadium, and whether wins or losses matter in attendance figures for a new ballpark (it doesn’t), the team wants a good product on the field.

Two pitchers in Triple-A may make their big-league debuts later this season. After battling inconsistency for the past two years, Lucas Sims is off to a great start in Gwinnett. He was awful in his 10 starts there last season (7.56 ERA), but this season, Sims has a 2.83 ERA and has walked just six batters and struck out 28 in 28.2 innings.

Sean Newcomb is the only piece left from the Andrelton Simmons trade. The Braves need him to be good, and so far in Gwinnett, he’s been solid. Newcomb’s last start showed the Braves what they are waiting for, as he struck out 11 and walked only two in seven shutout innings.

While it might be tempting to push Sims and/or Newcomb if they keep this up, the Braves do not need to rush them. You could make a case that Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair, who were both top prospects, were pushed to the big leagues too early. I thought they were ready, but neither has been effective, raising the question of whether they needed more seasoning before being promoted.

Maybe Newcomb and Sims could get 10 or so more starts and then be considered for Atlanta in August.

Then in Double-A, the Braves have five legit pitching prospects in the rotation. The best is Kolby Allard, who at 19 is tearing up the Southern League. Allard pitched six scoreless innings Thursday night in Birmingham with no walks and 11 strikeouts. His ERA in Mississippi is 1.36 and his professional ERA is now 2.42 in 25 minor league starts.

Allard looks like he’s special, but again, he doesn’t need to be rushed. With Sims and Newcomb above him, the Braves could look at those two first later this season before penciling Allard into the 2018 rotation next season.

We’ve just got to grin and bear watching these old starters get the Braves through the next few months. That’s what they were brought in to do. Patience is required by the fans and the front office to know that help is on the way.

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