Young hurlers give Braves reason for optimism
In wake of rotation injuries, Teheran and Wood rise to the occasion
MILWAUKEE -- The Atlanta Braves have a history rich in starting pitching. They aren't completely bereft in that category now, either.
Certainly, the Plan A 2014 rotation for the Braves took some hits. The operative word for the Braves' rotation during Spring Training was probably "ouch!"
Kris Medlen required Tommy John surgery. So did Brandon Beachy. Mike Minor opened the regular season on the disabled list after undergoing a urinary tract procedure. Gavin Floyd is coming back from his own Tommy John surgery and is not available for the start of the season..
The Braves compensated for the losses by signing a proven veteran starter, Ervin Santana. Santana is expected to join Atlanta's rotation within the next two weeks. Minor and Floyd are expected to be ready to pitch for the Braves later this month.
That is good news, but there were also positive pitching developments on display for the Braves in the first two games of the season at Miller Park.
Julio Teheran, without his best stuff, still held the Brewers to two runs over six innings in the season opener. There wasn't room for rejoicing on the Atlanta side because the Braves were shut out, 2-0, by the Brewers.
Tuesday night, the starting pitching was even better and the results were much happier for the Braves. Lefty Alex Wood went seven innings, allowing one run. It ought to be noted that Miller Park is hitter-friendly and Milwaukee's lineup Tuesday night featured a difficult lineup with eight right-handed-hitting position players
Teheran and Wood aren't revelations, but these performances were reassuring, anyway.
Teheran is just 23, but he already established himself with a 3.20 ERA and a 14-8 record over 30 starts in 2013. Wood, also 23, had 31 big league appearances last year, but only 11 were starts. Still, he put up a 3.13 ERA and demonstrated that he belonged at this level.
After that, there are some questions. Aaron Harang has plenty of experience, but he was 5-12 with a 5.40 ERA last season. He is currently the third starter. David Hale is the fourth starter at the moment. He is 26, but he has had only two Major League starts.
Tuesday night, Wood was in charge, almost from the start. Carlos Gomez hit his first pitch of the game for a home run, but Wood settled down, settled in and pitched a winning game.
Wood said he had some initial difficulty with fastball command, but after he got that pitch working, all three of his pitches worked.
"If my fastball command is erratic, it affects everything else," Wood said. "Fortunately, I was able to find it in the third, fourth inning and go from there."
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez extolled Wood's work, both in this game and in general.
"He pitched so well that I was thinking about running him back out there [for the eighth inning]," Gonzalez said. "But you know, his first outing, I didn't want to take a chance of getting him over 100-plus pitches and facing that lineup for the fourth time.
"You know what, mentally he's a tough cookie. He knows what he wants to do. He prepares better than any young player I've ever been around, physically and also mentally. What I mean by mentally are the videos and his side work. When he goes out to the mound, he knows what he wants to do."
The work of these two young pitchers, specifically in the first two games of the season, has given the Braves renewed reason for optimism. Once Atlanta gets Santana, Minor and Floyd in its rotation, all pitching at something resembling their career norms, what looked like catastrophe could move all the way to being truly competitive.
Then again, Gonzalez said the Braves, even after some truly bad news on the pitching front, were never anything like demoralized.
"We had a little bit in Spring Training when Medlen goes out and the next day or two Beachy goes out," Gonzalez said. "You felt it in the clubhouse.
"But I thought the front office, with [team president] John Schuerholz, [general manager] Frank Wren and [chairman and CEO] Terence McGuirk, went out and got Ervin Santana the day after. As soon as Beachy goes out, Frank's on the phone keeping me abreast of the situation. Santana was going somewhere else [reportedly Toronto], but Frank got the deal done for us. And that kind of gave us a little lift.
"Then we got Harang. And then these guys see that Floyd is close, Minor is close, Santana will meet us in the next couple of weeks. So you don't get down.
"[Catcher] Gerald Laird came to me and he goes: 'We lost Adam Wainwright in the first week of Spring Training [in 2011] with the Cardinals and we ended up winning the World Series.' So he kind of rallied the troops and spread that thing around. 'Hey, it's not the end of the world.' It was good."
It is also good when your fallback plan for the rotation features two 23-year-old starters who are good enough to win for you, right now, and after the rest of starters get well.