It might seem unconventional that something traditionally meaningless can mean even less. Unconventional? Welcome back, Atlanta Braves. They threw convention out sixteen months ago when they started disassembling the roster piece by piece and rebuilding for 2017 at the earliest.
Think about it. Even when the Braves start playing games that count, how relevant will the outcome be this season? Not trying to be pessimistic. But they’re not exactly spending much time planning a World Series parade down Peachtree.
As the Braves are in the midst of the spring training grind, all that matters over the next three weeks is that Freddie Freeman’s wrist is relatively pain free and none of the precious pitching prospects walks off the mound clutching his elbow. There have been yellow flags on both counts, as Freeman left Friday’s game early as a precaution and reliever Andrew McKirahan was lost for the season after blowing out his elbow.
Anything more positive than that will be gravy.
Sure, it’s a little distressing seeing the daily results thus far. Through Friday, the Braves had lost eight of their first 11 decisions, plus a tie with Baltimore in the first game. Some have been downright ugly, such as Friday’s 9-2 loss to Philadelphia. That was one of two losses Friday for the split squad roster.
But here’s why this year’s spring results matter even less than normal. Several of the culprits in the losses have been players who won’t head north with the team come April. Take Kyle Kendrick, Friday’s starting pitcher against the Phillies. He went into camp as a longshot to make the starting rotation. He was primarily an insurance policy in case the Bud Norris experiment failed. That shot is much longer now as Kendrick has given up nine runs in two starts. Meanwhile, Norris has given up one earned run in two starts. Julio Teheran and Matt Wisler already have two starting jobs secured. It’s doubtful that the Braves would want two veterans in the rotation blocking the way of the kids.
If all goes as planned, Williams Perez and Manny Banuelos will fill the other two slots.
Here’s a surprising stat of spring training. Of the 41 pitchers used so far —wait, THAT alone is a surprising stat — 25 of them have ERA’s below 4.00. Nineteen of them had not even given up an earned run. No one is concerned about Julio Teheran’s unimpressive first start. But some of those coveted youngsters have not fared well so far. Sean Newcomb, 32.40. Jason Hursh, 40.50. Lucas Sims, 12.27. By comparison, Aaron Blair’s 9.00 is almost Maddux like. Greg, not Mike.
None of the kids seem ready for The Show, but they weren’t expected to be. They weren’t so much auditioning for spots in the rotation as they were getting looks by manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell.
Some of the other news has been encouraging.
Left fielder Hector Olivera is starting to look comfortable for the first time since the Braves acquired him from the Dodgers last summer. He leads the club with 12 hits and has struck out only once. He might just turn out to be that middle of the order hitting the Braves projected him to be.
Shortstop Ozzie Albies is making a serious push to make the big league club, or at least position himself for a mid-season call-up. It was thought that acquiring veteran Erick Aybar in the Andrelton Simmons trade gives the Braves the luxury of being patient with Albies. Now it may be that Albies’s rapid development could give them the luxury of dealing Aybar, maybe for a catching prospect. Or he could fill the void at second base, where Jace Peterson seems to be fading fast as a prospect.
In the outfield, a couple of familiar faces have looked surprisingly fresh. Michael Bourn and Jeff Francoeur have demonstrated they might have another productive season left in them.
The starting lineup and top bench players may actually be pretty decent, especially if Freeman’s wrist holds up and Olivera produces. There’s only one obvious hole and that’s second base. But Albies or Emilio Bonafacio could change that.
Maybe they’ll actually be decent enough to be watchable until the young arms mature.
Guerry Clegg: firstname.lastname@example.org, @guerryclegg