Earlier this week, we addressed the questions facing the Braves lineup heading into the spring. But what about the pitching? Numerous questions/doubts were raised by fans and observers over the winter regarding the Atlanta rotation and bullpen. So what have we learned over the course of the Spring?
Q. Will Billy Wagner be healthy, and will he resemble the “Wags” of old?
A. I never fully understood this question, since I thought it was largely answered last year, when he struck out 26 batters in 15.2 innings, and posted a 1.72 ERA after his late-season return from the disabled list.
Yes, he had UCL reconstruction (“Tommy John”) surgery, but that was back in 2008, and he was ahead of schedule at every stage in his recovery. More than a year and a half have passed since that surgery, from which there is now a better than 90% FULL recovery rate. All things considered, I cannot explain why his recovery wasn’t obvious to so many after the way he pitched late last year.
But those fans who were nervously observing him this spring should now rest easier. He has thrown the ball quite will, routinely firing fastballs in the mid-90’s. One radar gun reading drew gasps from the spring training crowd when a Wagner heater was clocked at 101 mph.
Q. Is Hudson healthy and ready to regain top-of-rotation form?
A. As with the Billy Wagner question, it has been difficult for me to comprehend the doubts so many have had in Hudson’s ability to perform at a high level in 2010.
Hudson is also more than a year and half removed from TJ surgery, and he looked fantastic after returning for 7 starts at the end of last season, posting a 3.61 ERA in 42 innings. One Major League scout commented at the time that it looked as though Hudson “had never left” (never been injured). The Braves had certainly seen enough to convince them of Hudson’s health and ability when they resigned him to a 3-year deal over the winter. But for those who needed further proof this spring… here ya go:
In 5 spring starts, Hudson is 3-1 with 1.35 ERA. He has also KO’d 17 batters in his 20 innings of pre-season work. His arm feels as good as it ever has, and opposing hitters will tell you his pitches have never been more difficult to square up.
Q. Will Derek Lowe bounce back from a disappointing 2009 season?
A. If his spring performance is any indication, he can and most likely will bounce back with a strong 2010 season. In an effort to correct mechanical flaws that led to an underwhelming ’09 season, Lowe worked with Braves’ Pitching Coach, Roger McDowell, on returning to a windup and delivery he had used to great effect earlier in his career.
The results have been very encouraging. This spring, for the most part, Lowe has been successful in getting opposing hitters to either beat the ball into the ground or swing through it all together. If you remove one start that was severely hampered (and shortened) by a blister, he wrapped up the Grapefruit League season with a 3.42 ERA and fewer hits than innings pitched.
Q. Is Jair Jurrjens shoulder healthy?
A. In a word: Yes. A February MRI revealed no damage in his shoulder, and the prescribed rest seemed to do the trick. Jurrjens has been gaining strength in his shoulder throughout the month of March, and now reportedly no longer feels any pain or discomfort in the shoulder whatsoever. His last outing was his best yet (5 innings, 1 hit, 3 K’s, no runs allowed). He is on track to start game 2 of the regular season on April 7, at home against the Chicago Cubs.
Q. After the bullpen “locks” (Wagner, Saito, Moylan, O’Flaherty), how will the ‘pen shape up?
A. Kris Medlen is quite highly thought of within the Braves organization and is another virtual lock to retain his seat in the Atlanta bullpen.
JoJo Reyes has frustrated Braves officials, who recognize his potential, with his inability to make the most of multiple chances to crack the big league starting rotation. This spring, the powers that be decided to test him in a relief role. It’s a test he’s passed with flying colors, and it appears he’ll open the season as the third lefty in the Atlanta ‘pen.
After landing with the Braves via Tampa Bay in the Rafael Soriano trade, Jesse Chavez has had a rough spring. A VERY rough spring. Having said that, he was quite effective in his two most recent appearances. But more importantly, he has something on his resume that those competing against him for the final bullpen spot do not… big league success. Chavez was quite solid for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 73 relief appearance last year, and that will likely more than atone for his rocky spring.
But don’t forget about Scott Proctor, who the Braves signed to a minor league deal back in November. The former Yankees bullpen workhorse (and former Braves trade target) is wrapping up what has thus far been a very successful rehabilitation from the “Tommy John” surgery he underwent last May. The hard throwing righty will likely supplant one member of the Atlanta ‘pen by the end of April.
PROJECTED BRAVES BULLPEN:
Wagner (LHP – Closer)
Saito (RHP – Setup Man)
Tags: 2010 Braves, Billy Wagner, Bullpen, Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Pitching, Spring Training, Tim Hudson
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