Even before Touki Toussaint made yet another early exit in the Braves’ 14-1 loss to the Orioles on Monday night at Camden Yards, they had reason to begin looking forward to Wednesday, when for the first time in more than a month, they’ll have reason to be excited about their rotation.
Cole Hamels will make his season debut against the Orioles on Wednesday, and Max Fried is expected to come off the injured list to start Friday’s series opener against the Mets. Then Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright will spend the weekend attempting to duplicate the success they had this past weekend at Nationals Park.
“These are some of those older guys we were counting on to carry some of that starting load,” manager Brian Snitker said prior to Monday’s game. “Now we’re finally getting them back.”
This is the first time there has been optimism surrounding the Braves’ rotation since ace Mike Soroka tore his right Achilles tendon on Aug. 3. But that season-ending injury was preceded by Mike Foltynewicz being designated for assignment and by Sean Newcomb making two of the three starts that would precede his demotion.
Accounting for these injuries and demotions, the Braves have spent the season trying to piece together their rotation with such guys as Toussaint, whose future as a starter became less certain after he allowed eight runs (five earned) on seven hits and three walks over just 2 2/3 innings.
Toussaint was effective in his first two starts of the season. His nine-strikeout performance against the Blue Jays on Aug. 6 was one of the most entertaining outings produced by a Braves starter this year. But as he has continued to tinker with a slider and struggle to command his fastball, his plus curveball has not been enough to prevent him from posting a 7.52 ERA after five starts.
“I don’t have the answer for it,” Snitker said when asked why Toussaint hasn’t been able to take that next step.
DJ Stewart hit a three-run homer and Ryan Mountcastle added a solo shot off Toussaint during the Orioles’ nine-run third inning. José Iglesias capped the big inning with a three-run homer off Luke Jackson, who was asked to eat innings as the Braves prepare to bring Huascar Ynoa out of the bullpen with the hope he can provide a few quality innings as Tuesday’s starter.
Though the Braves’ lead over the second-place Marlins in the National League East has shrunk to 2 1/2 games, it’s incredible to think they have sat alone atop the division for nearly a month, given the state of their rotation. They have received three innings or fewer from a starter in 13 of 48 games. To put that in perspective, they received 15 such starts over 486 games from 1997-99.
“These are tough ones,” Snitker said. "We’ve been fighting this all year with some short starts. I think we’ve done an unbelievable job to be where we are with all of them that we’ve had.”
Beginning with Wednesday’s series finale, Hamels, Fried, Anderson and Wright will be slated to account for nine of the regular season’s final 11 starts. That’s something to look forward to for a team that counts Tommy Milone and Robbie Erlin among the guys they allowed to make multiple starts over the past few weeks.