Injuries devastating Braves rotation

Braves lose 2 starters just weeks before opening day

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMarch 22, 2014 

Marlins Braves Baseball

DAVID GOLDMAN/Associated PressThe Atlanta Braves found out Monday that Kris Medlen would require season-ending surgery. He had been scheduled to start opening day.

DAVID GOLDMAN — AP

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Every major league team can count on at least a few strained shoulders, hamstrings, obliques and assorted other aches and pains during spring training, and plenty will have an injury or two significantly worse.

But seldom does a team have the kind of buzzard's luck visited recently upon the Braves, who lost two members of their starting rotation, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, to season-ending elbow injuries on consecutive days. They later learned that both would need Tommy John surgery, the second such operation for each.

That's a one-two punch to a team's collective psyche, as well as its starting rotation, and it came only three weeks before opening day.

"Big stuff," general manager Frank Wren said. "In spring training you're always going to have some sort of injuries, guys get sore, come up with some aches and pains. But usually you take them out of the games for a week or two (and they're fine). But when you have the really big, season-ending-type things, that's always devastating.

"It impacts your team because everybody thinks about it, everybody talks about it."

Braves officials already knew they would be without starter Mike Minor for at least the first two weeks of the season. The left-hander couldn't throw in January after urinary-tract surgery and missed a week of camp with shoulder soreness when he tried to do too much too soon at the outset of spring training.

Wren is used to dealing with spring injuries, but this was unusual. Three of Atlanta's top four projected starters will be on the disabled list when the season begins -- all but Julio Teheran, who will replace Medlen as opening-day starter.

"It's part of the game, unfortunately," Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. "You feel more for your (injured) teammates. But you've just got to play the cards you're dealt every day. That's it. We don't make the rosters.

"It's unfortunate we don't have (those) guys, who were productive and helped us win a lot of games. At the same time, can't do anything about it, man. Nobody's going to feel worse for them than us, as teammates. After that, you wish them well and try to go about your job the best way possible."

The Braves were fortunate in one regard: Free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana was unsigned at the time of the Medlen and Beachy injuries, mulling offers from the Blue Jays and Orioles. Wren jumped into the fray, scrambling to plug one of the gaping holes in the rotation and quell concerns in the clubhouse by signing the former All-Star to a one-year, $14.1 million deal. It pushed the Braves well beyond a planned $100 million payroll, but was viewed as a move that had to be made.

"It's tough, especially with guys like that who are such big guys in the clubhouse," veteran catcher Gerald Laird said. "Medlen is well-liked. Beachy is well-liked. They're fun to be around. But it's one of those things where you can take it in a bad way or you can take it in a good way. I thought the mood around here was OK, especially after the signing of Santana. Obviously everyone's perspective changed because we know we've got Santana now, and we know what we've got in Julio, who I think is going to take a big step forward.

"I think those two (Santana and Teheran) can pitch with any two guys in the National League, so now it's just kind of fill in the roles behind them."

Santana made his Grapefruit League debut Thursday and should join the rotation in the second week of the season. The Braves will give rookie David Hale a chance to fill another hole in the rotation, at least in the first week or two. And Beachy being out for the season probably means that second-year left-hander Alex Wood and Freddy Garcia -- one of whom might otherwise have gone to the bullpen -- could both be in the rotation, at least until Gavin Floyd's projected return in June.

That's assuming Hale is the one dropped from the rotation when Minor is ready in mid- to late April. But it's not a given that Hale would necessarily be the one to go, not if he's pitching well when Minor returns.

"Sometimes it can be a positive thing, if you look at it the right way," Laird said of replacing injured players. "It creates opportunity. Like, Woody's going to step in now. He didn't even know if he was going to be in the rotation or the bullpen. And now Hale gets an opportunity. It creates opportunity, and maybe you're going to see a guy step up and have a great year who you probably wouldn't have seen if they wouldn't have given him a shot. Now the shot is here."

Laird played for St. Louis in 2011 when Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, coming off a 20-win season, blew out his elbow in spring training and had Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals didn't get 15 wins from any pitcher in 2011, but they got 11 or more wins from five different pitchers, earned a wild-card playoff berth, and won the World Series.

"I talk to Skipper (manager Fredi Gonzalez) and (bench coach Carlos) Tosca a lot and say, 'listen, I've just been talking to (players) about how this happens; it's part of the game,'" Laird said. "And I've seen it firsthand when I was with St. Louis and we lost Wainwright. Same type of situation as with Medlen. And we just had guys step up, and we ended up going all the way and winning it. And that's why I say, it's not a lost season. We have a really good team still.

"We're just going to have to rely on some younger guys to step up and do their thing."

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