Today’s article is from a new guest writer, Kent Covington. We’re working on convincing Kent to write for us more often, so make him feel welcome. In the meantime, you can follow Kent on Twitter @FriedBasballATL. And while you’re at it, follow BravesBlast too @BravesBlast.
For the past two years, the Braves have reported to their spring training facilities at Disney’s Wide World of Sports with the hope and belief that their bullpen would be among the game’s best. And for the past two years, their hopes have been shattered. Prior to the start of the 2007 season, the Braves acquired one of the game’s elite setup men, Rafael Soriano, from Seattle, and a filthy (in a good way) young closer in the person of Mike Gonzalez, from the Pirates. Along with Bob Wickman, who was brilliant in Atlanta after a mid-season trade in 2006, the Braves were thought to have a bullpen trio capable of shortening any game to a 6-inning contest.
But before long, Atlanta’s bullpen plans began to skid off the runway. Mike Gonzalez’s season was cut short less than two months after opening day, as he was forced to go under the knife for “Tommy John” surgery. What’s more, Bob Wickman was unable to duplicate his 2006 success, and was eventually released by the Braves.
Not everything went awry in the ’07 bullpen. Soriano was as good as advertised and the emergence of Peter Moylan (1.80 ERA in 80 appearances) was certainly a pleasant surprise. Nevertheless, injuries to key relievers left the Braves with a shell of the dominant bullpen they planned to throw at opponents.
Fast forward to Spring 2008. The Braves had re-inked Soriano to a two-year deal over the winter and anticipated a bullpen headed by Soriano and Moylan. The two hard throwing relievers had combined for an ERA of 2.44 over 150 innings the previous season. And as soon as Mike Gonzalez returned to action, they thought they would have no fewer than three dominant relievers, as they had planned the year before. But the baseball gods again revealed other plans.
Soriano and Moylan both began complaining of elbow discomfort in spring training. Moylan made it less than two weeks into the season before being disabled (eventually undergoing “Tommy John” surgery). Soriano was forced out of action just one week from opening day. He would spend the remainder of the season on and off the disabled list (mostly on).
Mike Gonzalez’s successful comeback was a bright spot in what was otherwise the Braves’ most forgettable season in almost 20 years. But once again, the bullpen never possessed the kind of depth they were counting on.
Which brings us to 2009.
The calendar has flipped on a year that the Braves undoubtedly couldn’t put behind them quickly enough. And as pitchers and catchers prepare to report (except for those tied up with the damned World Baseball Classic – a topic for another day), the Braves once more hope to feature a bullpen capable of being baseball’s best.
If healthy, Atlanta may finally have their lights-out late-inning trio. And their relief talent runs deeper than what they have at the back of the ‘pen’. Much deeper. Next week we’ll break down the Braves’ bullpen, and explore what kind of relief they will have in ’09. That is, if they can avoid Murphy (no, not old #3 – the other Murphy… the one with that law).
So where does that leave us? Is the injury bug behind us and ready to let the bullpen actually prove their ability in pitching? Are there some unanswered holes in the bullpen? All I know is that I’m ready to put 2008 behind us and see what 2009 brings.
Tags: Bullpen, Mike Gonzalez, Peter Moylan, Rafael Soriano
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