We apparently didn’t scare Kent off last time around so he’s back with more content for us. Once again, you can follow Kent on Twitter @FriedBasballATL.
After the addition of three quality starters, the new look Atlanta starting rotation has been the hot topic of conversation among Braves fans. But with as much depth as they now have in their rotation, the bullpen appears to be even deeper. With a number of Braves hurlers already in Orlando, we take a look at the relief corps the Braves are likely to carry to Atlanta roughly 6 weeks from today. We start this two-part series by looking at the definites and the probables for this year’s bullpen.
DEFINITE (barring injuries/setbacks): Mike Gonzalez, Rafael Soriano, Peter Moylan
PROBABLE: Blaine Boyer, Manny Acosta
POSSIBLE: Jorge Campillo, Jeff Bennett, Buddy Carlyle, Phil Stockman, Eric O’Flaherty, Boone Logan, Jeff Ridgway
Mike Gonzalez has quietly become one of the game’s elite closers, carrying a (then major league best) 39 consecutive saves streak into last season after returning from “Tommy John” surgery. The lefty fire-baller featured a mid-to-upper 90′s heater while closing for the Pirates. Since his arrival in Atlanta two years ago, however, his arm that was never entirely healthy or rested, and his fastball topped out at about 93 mph. Despite diminished velocity, “Gonzo” has been effective, with a 3.38 ERA as a Brave, converting 16 of 18 save opportunities.
After his first full off-season since beginning his rehabilitation in 2007, his arm is now 100%, and Gonzalez says he’s “fired up” about the opportunity to finally show Atlanta his very best. With health no longer a concern, look for a big season from the Braves’ closer.
Rafael Soriano, when healthy, is among the best late-inning relievers in baseball. Since his move to the bullpen at that start of his sophomore season in 2003, Soriano has a career ERA of 2.53, with more strikeouts than innings pitched. In a word: Dominant.
Soriano began experiencing pain in his pitching elbow last spring which eventually cost him most of the 2008 season. Fortunately, the cause of the pain was not a structural issue within his elbow. Soriano underwent surgery last fall to reposition a nerve that was apparently the cause of the discomfort. MLB’s Mark Bowman recently reported that, “all indications are that Soriano is healthy”. That’s excellent news for Braves fans.
Peter Moylan was the only pleasant surprise of the 2007 season. Over 80 appearances, Molyan limited opposing hitters to a .208 average, and allowed only 16 earned runs for a 1.80 ERA. It was the third best ERA in all of baseball, and it was the first sub-2.00 ERA to come out of the Atlanta bullpen over a full season since John Smoltz did it in 2003.
Moylan’s stuff is outstanding, but what makes him truly remarkable is that he fires his mid 90′s fastball, baffling changeup, and hard-biting slider with a submarine delivery. Many submarine/sidearm pitchers develop a deceptive pitching motion to compensate for a lack of overwhelming natural ability. Not so in Moylan’s case. His stuff, coupled with a submarine delivery, seems almost unfair.
After experiencing elbow pain last spring, he made it only 2 weeks into the season before joining the expansive disabled list. He underwent “Tommy John” surgery shortly thereafter. Moylan is reportedly ahead of schedule with his rehabilitation, and could be ready for action on opening day. Like Soriano, if healthy, Moylan is one of the best late-inning relievers in the game.
Blaine Boyer has been described by scouts, coaches, and teammates as a talented young pitcher with “closer’s stuff”. Boyer features a heater that pops the mitt in the mid-to-upper 90′s, and a (at times) knee-buckling 12-6 curveball. Boyer was thrust into a key late-inning role after Peter Moylan and Rafael Soriano were lost to injuries, and he responded well to the challenge. Through the end of June, Boyer posted a very solid 3.63 ERA. However, after notching nearly 45 innings by the half-way point of the season, he appeared to “hit a wall”, and struggled throughout the second half.
John Smoltz is a big Blaine Boyer believer. He has raved about Boyer’s potential, and spent most of the winter training with him. And “Smoltzy” isn’t the only one ready to buy stock in the 6′ 3″ right-hander. Everyone within the Braves organization seems to think highly of Boyer. And he was rumored to be one of the pieces the Padres wanted in a potential Jake Peavy trade. With the depth of Atlanta’s bullpen this year, Boyer should benefit from less pressure and a reduced work load.
Manny Acosta is another hard-throwing young righty believed to have closer potential. Through 67 Major League games (2007, 2008), Acosta is owner of an outstanding 3.17 early career ERA. Like Boyer, Acosta features a fastball that rests in the mid 90′s. He struggles at times with his control, but if Manny can continue to develop his command of the strike zone, he could play a play a much larger role for the Braves in the near future. Either way, Acosta has already established himself as a valuable member of the Atlanta ‘pen’.
So there’s a quick look at what you can most likely expect to see as a large part of the Braves’ bullpen on opening day. Barring any unforseen circumstances and injuries, the bullpen has depth and is ready to get to work in the 2009 season. Are you happy with who we have? Wish things looked a little different? Look for the second half of the bullpen preview where we look into the people fighting for the last couple of spots in the bullpen to come tomorrow.
Tags: Blaine Boyer, Bullpen, Manny Acosta, Mike Gonzalez, Peter Moylan, Preview, Rafael Soriano
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