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Braves stick with six-man 'pen despite rash of injures

ATLANTA -- When the Braves decided to go with an 11-man pitching staff to create a roster spot for right fielder Jason Heyward on Friday, they certainly were not expecting that primary setup man Eric O'Flaherty might need to undergo season-ending Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

But even after an MRI exam showed a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of O'Flaherty's left elbow Saturday, Braves general manager Frank Wren said the team would continue to utilize a six-man bullpen, which is also without Jordan Walden, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday because of right shoulder inflammation.

"We're going to go with 11 [pitchers] for the foreseeable future until we need to make a change," Wren said. "We kind of planned that out over the last week or so when we got to this point."

While the Braves were not shocked to learn former setup man Jonny Venters needed to undergo Tommy John surgery this past Thursday, they certainly were not expecting to learn O'Flaherty could face the same fate just one day after Walden went down.

Left-hander Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin will serve as closer Craig Kimbrel's top setup men in O'Flaherty's absence. The club expects Walden will be ready to rejoin the bullpen May 27, when he is eligible to come off the disabled list.

"Historically, teams went with 11 pitchers, that was the norm," Wren said. "It's just in recent years, with the use of bullpens, we've seen 12-man staffs be the norm. So, until you have that real extended, whether it's an extra-inning game or your long man has to fill in and do a four- or five-inning stint, you really don't need that 12th guy. That 12th guy is almost always a safety valve."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
Read More: Atlanta Braves, Evan Gattis, Eric O'Flaherty