Concern hit Atlanta Braves‘ camp with news that Jonny Venters left Tuesday’s game with elbow discomfort. Venters allowed two hits and two walks while recording an out before exiting with the injury. The Braves have not set a timetable for a return but a trip to the disabled list appears likely.
While the extent of the injury is not yet known, this will affect the Braves at the end of games whether it’s temporary or long-term. The bullpen has been the backbone of this team the past few season, and Braves fans saw what happens to the team when the bullpen struggles as they did to finish the 2011 season. To ensure a smooth transition, manager Fredi Gonzalez will need to quickly determine who pitches the seventh inning.
The most likely candidate to assume a larger role is Jordan Walden, who the Braves acquired in the offseason from the Los Angeles Angels for Tommy Hanson. The right-handed fireballer has past closer experience with the Angels and possesses the stuff to be successful at the end of games. Walden missed a large portion of spring training as he dealt with some back issues but appears ready to go as he struck out two men in a scoreless fifth inning on Tuesday. The concern with Walden will always be command, and Gonzalez will have to determine if he can trust him in crucial situations.
Two other players who will see increased roles will be Cory Gearrin and Luis Avilan. Gearrin features a side-arm delivery from the right side to make it virtually impossible on right-handed hitters. He enjoyed a successful spring training by posting a 1.64 ERA and striking out 11 in 11 innings of work.
The Braves called Avilan up to the MLB team in mid-July in 2012, and all he did was post a 2.00 ERA in 36 innings. The left-hander compiled good splits against both right-handed (.231) and left-handed (.180) hitters during that span. Avilan started where he left off this spring but has had some recent clunkers for a 6.10 ERA.
Whether it’s one or a combination of all three, the Braves will need to adjust. Fortunately for the Braves, the best bullpens build from the back to the front. The Braves are set with Craig Kimbrel and Eric O’Flaherty to finish the games and will give the Braves a strong bullpen in the absence of Venters. However, this makes the margin for error smaller. Now, the Braves need a couple pitchers to step up.