Jordan Walden Returns To Stumbling Braves BullPen Tuesday
Jordan Walden (52) seen here leaving the mound with the trainer is set to return Tuesday. Walden has been out since 5 May with hamstring trouble. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
As the Braves bullpen acted like batting practice for the Diamondback in the second straight game news came that Jordan Walden will rejoin the team on Tuesday in Denver. Walden has been out since May 5 with a hamstring issue. Originally he was scheduled to be back this weekend but after a rough outing on Thursday the Braves decided to se what happened today at Gwinnett. Walden answered by throwing one inning, striking out 2 and walking one he’ll certainly be activated then. Since the bullpen is so shaky my only question is, can he get there by tonight?
How shaky is the bullpen?
The numbers are not good After Sunday’s game the line for relief pitchers not named Craig Kimbrel or Shae Simmons since Walden went on the DL. 5 May look like this.
UPDATE: Note that this is an updated table. It was pointed out that there was an error in David Hale’s numbers . When I checked I found errors in various cells of the other pitchers as well. I really have no idea what specifically happened between calculation and insertion but the numbers have been corrected and I apologize for the error.
These numbers don’t include the trials and tribulations of Ian Thomas and Simmons isn’t included because he hasn’t been there long enough. Even Kimbrel hasn’t been himself but that’s been the case all season.
While Kimbrel’s been good he isn’t the strike throwing machine he’s been in prior years. He’s not locating his fastball consistently forcing him to rely heavily on his breaking ball. That pitch hasn’t been sharp and he’s left too many of them in the hitting zone. For his slider to work his fastball has to be the threat. When it’s not hitters sit on that slider with some success. Here’s how Kimbrel’s line looks over the same period
During that period he blew two saves and lost a game he entered when it was tied. So Walden’s return is welcomed not because he’s going to solve all of these issues. What a health Walden does is allow the other pitchers to return to their more accustomed role. . well except for Carpenter, if they don’t figure out why he suddenly so much more hittable the bullpen may need to be reinforced from the outside.
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What’s Available Internally
The vaunted Braves pitching depth is now right there with the king’s new clothes so let’s look at our options practically.
The Braves and Venters himself have been optimistically predicting a June return since last season. That’s more hope and prayer than a realistic target. Dr. Andrews and others who deal with these on a daily basis say that recovery from the second TJ takes longer than the first and can be up to 18 months. Brian Wilson did return successfully at the end of last year but this season’s seen him experience repeated elbow soreness and his numbers – 610. ERA, 1.887 WHIP overall – make one wonder if he came back too hard too soon; back to Venters
JV started throwing live BP on May 14 but cut the session short due to elbow soreness. That was evaluated and called normal post surgery rehab soreness. He was rested for a few days then started throwing again and on May 20 he threw a pain-free bullpen session. Later that day he tried to throw live BP again and experienced more soreness. That resulted in him being shutdown until last Tuesday when he threw 25 pitches in what was described as light throwing. On Wednesday he threw a few more pitches and said afterward he was easing into throwing. He added that the throws were “real light, nothing crazy.”
"“I’m easing back into it. Hopefully, crank it back up fairly quick. We’ll play it by ear and see how it responds.”"
So June isn’t happening and I suspect July isn’t either. If he makes it back this season it will be August or September, that does nothing to help the Braves bullpen in the near term.
What’s in the minors?
With Simmons in the fold – at least for now – there are a few options in the system that could be called upon top help. Gwinnett has righties Pedro Beato, Juan Jaime and lefties Atahualpa Severino, Ryan Buchter and of course Ian Thomas. Beato is pitching to a 2.84 ERA/1.145 WHIP. He had one appearance earlier this year with Atlanta and has major league chops after stints with the Mets and Red Sox. Buchter and Jaime strikeout a lot of hitters. They also walk a lot of hitters. Both pitchers have 18 walks this season Buchter in 30 IP and Jaime in 22 1/3 IP. – PASS – We’ve seen what Thomas can do so I’ll skip him and talk about Severino.
Hard throwing lefty Severino got a lot of opportunities in spring training and when he’s pitching well he can be effective. He’s struck out 36 hitters in 26 IP in 22 appearances while walking 11 and posting a 3.12 ERA / 1.195 WHIP. He also has a little major league experience appearing in six games for the Nationals back in 2011 posting a 1.286 WHIP in 4 2/3 IP.
I like WHIP more than ERA for a relief pitcher; Severino and Beato have the lowest WHIP among relievers at Gwinnett. In they go to Gwinnett for help Severino in particular could be called on. We’ve already plucked the best relief from Pearl in Simmons but they have a couple of interesting options.
From existing relievers there’s Chasen Shreve who threw to a 4.43 ERA/1.523 WHIP for Mississippi in 2013 but has turned that around so far this year. The 23 year old lefty is pitching to a 2.63 ERA/1.009 WHIP in 27 2/3 IP walking 7 and striking out 47. Yes 47, that was not a typo. That equates to 11.2K/9 and a K/BB ratio of 6.71. Other than the fact that he was an 11th round pick in 2010 from the College of Southern Nevada there’s not much out there. He’s a strike thrower whose fastball topped out at 90 in 2010 and has a + changeup. I’d think 47 Ks in 27 2/3 innings is worth a look besides, he reminds me a little of Eric O’Flaherty on the bump.
If you’re looking for names you know J.R. Graham and Jason Hursh are both at Pearl. Graham was stellar in relief during spring training back in 2013 touching 98 a couple of times and making big league hitters do a double take. I watched an inning from behind home plate and he was impressive. He was also shut down early in the season with shoulder issues and missed the rest of the year. He’s back and looking good so the Braves could call on him. They see Graham as future starter however and may not want to risk stressing that shoulder working him in relief. Hursh too is a starter of the future and I suspect the Braves won’t want to start the arb clock on either of these guys.
There are several players in DFA limbo including LOOGY David Huff who’s been effective against lefties but killed by righties, but nothing exciting is listed. Look for yourself and let me know what I missed. Heath Bell opted out of his Orioles contract last weekend if that excites you. It doesn’t excite me.
Trades are always possible but when people know you are desperate they raise the price. I haven’t seen or heard of anyone being shopped but sadly teams don’t always keep me in the loop.
That’s A Wrap
The bullpen certainly needs attention but how that will be addressed is a mystery. If anyone is added of course someone has to leave. The most likely first out is David Hale as he has options left. I’ve been looking to see if Luis Avilan has an option left and can’t find it anywhere but the way he’s been pitching lately if he has one we should exercise it. Fredi Gonzalez indicated they’d like to add another (13th) pitcher but didn’t say how they would do that since only Tommy La Stella, Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis have options available from the list of everyday players and moving any of them might well result in riot at the Ted. Putting someone on the DL is possible too; Carpenter and Avilan have been so bad something must be wrong. . . right? All will be revealed in time but the question remains, why can’t Walden be activated today?