So what will the Braves do when they have to kick out one of the six starting pitchers to go back to a five-man rotation? Will they simply stick with the six-man format, or will one pitcher be eased out and into the bullpen.
Let’s look at how the starting pitchers have done recently to gauge the tough decision the Braves must make in the next few weeks.
Kris Medlen – As a starter in five games, Medlen is 4-0 and has allowed only three earned runs in 32.2 innings (0.83 ERA). He’s walked only five and struck out 29. In his career as a starter, Medlen is 10-2 in 23 starts with a 3.47 ERA. He’s allowed 129 hits in 135 innings, with 32 walks and 110 strikeouts.
Since Medlen also had success as a reliever, it might be tempting to put him back in the bullpen. But with his dominance as a starting pitcher, there is no way the Braves are removing him from this rotation.
Mike Minor – His season is pretty much split into two halves.
First 15 starts of the season – April–June – 4-6, 6.23 ERA – 88 hits allowed in 85.1 innings – 38 walks, 72 strikeouts – 18 home runs allowed – 4 quality starts
Last Eight starts of the season – July-August – 2-4, 2.29 ERA – 38 hits allowed in 51 innings – eight walks, 37 strikeouts – six home runs allowed – 7 quality starts (only one that wasn’t was a rain-shortened game vs. Miami)
He’s saved his season and perhaps his career with the Braves. If Minor continues to do this well, he’ll be tough to remove from the starting five.
Ben Sheets – After five great starts, Sheets has had a bit more trouble in his last two appearances. He’s allowed 10 earned runs in 12 innings against the Mets and Dodgers (7.50 ERA). But before that, Sheets had allowed only five earned runs in 32 innings (1.41 ERA). He’s shown he can go deep into games, but the Braves will at least wonder if his arm is getting tired if he has a few more suspect starts. If you’re going on who is the hottest pitcher, Sheets has dipped down a bit with these last two games. So his next start Friday in San Francisco might be important.
Paul Maholm – The lefty acquired from the Cubs on July 30 has been very good, including perhaps the best start by any Atlanta starting pitcher all season when he shut out the Mets on August 10. His ERA in four starts with the Braves is 2.40. But remember, Maholm had been on a roll before he was traded to the Braves. If you take his last 11 appearances, going back to June 29, Maholm has allowed 13 earned runs in 75 innings (1.56 ERA). The Braves didn’t acquire him for the bullpen, and he needs to stay in the rotation.
Tim Hudson – He’s had a couple of clunkers (like Monday when he gave up four runs in the first innings) mixed in with good starts. It’s almost been one good start, one bad one….
June 26 1 ER in 8 IP - GOOD
July 1 5 ER in 6 IP - BAD
July 6 0 ER in 7 IP – GOOD
July 13 4 ER in 4 IP – BAD
July 19 2 ER in 7.1 IP - GOOD
July 24 3 ER in 7 IP - GOOD
July 29 2 ER in 5.2 IP SO SO
August 3 0 ER in 7.1 IP GOOD
August 8 6 ER in 4.1 IP BAD
August 14 0 ER in 6.1 IP GOOD
August 20 4 ER in 6 IP BAD
For the most part, Hudson has been pretty good. He’s won his last six decisions, and it’s not like his bad starts have awful. He’s just not been as consistent as he would like to be. Hudson is the veteran. He’s the one that’s been around the longest. The Braves depend on Hudson to be a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. It’s very unlikely Hudson would be removed from the rotation, even if he has a tough start on Sunday against the Giants.
Tommy Hanson – You could make a case that Hanson is the one in most jeopardy of losing his spot, considering the worry about his back and the concern many have about his dip in velocity. But Hanson has won 12 games this season, and he was pretty good in his return start against the Dodgers last week. Hanson allowed three runs in 6.2 innings. It was his longest start since July 7. Hanson has 10 quality starts this season, so the Braves know he can give them a chance to win. His start Thursday night in San Francisco is important, as each start is for each starter. But if Hanson struggles, it could give the Braves reason to consider moving him out of the rotation. But again, how can you do based more on his decrease in velocity, compared to the good games he has pitched for the team this season?
Of course, the Braves could simply stick with the six-man rotation for the rest of the season. That might give each starter more rest, so they’ll be fresher in the late-season games and in the playoffs.
It’s hard to believe 40% of the opening day starting rotation is not even involved in this discussion. Brandon Beachy, who was the team’s best starter before he got hurt, will make this area of the team even stronger when he returns next summer from Tommy John surgery. And Jair Jurrjens is obviously probably never going to start again for Atlanta, considering his struggles and the depth that has been accumulated.
This is not only an issue for the five-man rotation, but it’s also part of the process the Braves are going through to plan out the rotation for the rest of the season and for the play-in game for the Wildcard. They do have the luxury of inserting Randall Delgado, who has made 17 starts for this team this season but is now in Triple-A, back into the rotation for a spot or two in September to place the starters in the right order.
This is a good problem to have. It beats the heck out of not knowing who is going to start in a pennant race. But it is nonetheless going to be interesting to see how the Braves handle this excess in the starting rotation, and how to make it an asset instead of a burden.
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 on twitter @BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .