The Atlanta Braves announced on Saturday that twenty-three-year-old Julio Teheran will take to the mound on opening day against the Milwaukee Brewers, which was an inevitable decision for manager Fredi Gonzalez due to the injuries of several Braves starters.
The fact that Teheran, who only has 34 career starts under his belt, will serve as Atlanta’s top of the rotation when the season gets underway in Milwaukee is a signal that the Braves had no place else to go but to the promising young Colombian due to a spring that has probably left trainer Jeff Porter unable to sleep at night. Atlanta was dealt back-to-back blows with the loss of both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery (Beachy’s second in three years), and Mike Minor’s recovery from surgery to remove scar tissue has sidelined the former first round pick out of Vanderbilt until the middle of April.
With one potential starter shelved to start the season and two gone for the long run, the Braves will begin the 2014 campaign with a starting rotation comprised of Teheran (15-9 career record with 3.44 ERA), Freddy Garcia (156-108, 4.15 ERA), Alex Wood (3-3, 3.13 ERA), and either David Hale (1-0, 0.82 ERA) or Gus Schlosser (no MLB experience). Gonzalez is expected to utilize this four-man rotation until the second week of the season when new signee Ervin Santana is deemed ready to begin his first season in a Braves uniform.
Atlanta had several options going into the offseason in regards to the pitching staff but opted to stay in-house, even allowing veteran Tim Hudson to seek employment elsewhere in favor of its next generation of hurlers. General Manager Frank Wren’s strategy at the time seemed sound; after all, the Braves had –and still have — a great amount of young talent on the mound, so why spend the big bucks to reel in unknowns when there are players that have been Turner Field-tested already on the club?
As sound as this strategy was at the time, the baseballs gods must have weighed the Braves in the balance and found them wanting, leaving the front office scrambling for some sound solutions. Wren and Company hit a home run in reeling in Santana before the Toronto Blue Jays or Baltimore Orioles signed the former Royal, but the question remains if this will be enough to sustain the Atlanta rotation.
The options outside of the organization seem very bleak to almost pointless at this point, as the likes of Erik Bedard or Shaun Marcum would not be individuals who should be trusted more than some of the highly touted-but-inexperienced arms that currently reside in the Braves’ farm system. On the same note, guys like Ben Sheets (4-4 record with Atlanta in 2012) who can pop up out of retirement and make a significant impact are extremely hard to come by, and, unfortunately, I doubt that the Baton Rouge, Louisiana native gets coaxed into returning to baseball for a second time.
While it is easy for fans to begin to worry about the Braves’ season due to issues with the pitching staff in mid-March, it is important to look at history in order to calm tensioned nerves, specifically last season. Coming into what most felt would be a neck-and-neck battle with the Washington Nationals from March all the way to September, the Braves were dealt unfavorable cards with just a month of the season completed, as proven relievers Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty were sidelined with elbow injuries that required Tommy John surgery (legitimate question: is Dr. James Andrews on speed dial in the Braves’ bullpen phone?). Instead of slacking due to the loss of two great relievers, the bullpen stepped up and became the backbone of the Braves’ division-winning squad, showing us all that this team contains a considerable amount of players that are capable of stepping up to the challenge when need be.
The result of this fickle fiasco with the starting pitchers can only be guessed at until the season gets under way for the Braves, who kick off the new campaign with a three-game road stretch against the Brewers before heading to the nation’s capital for a three-game series against the Washington Nationals and then returning home for three games against the New York Mets.
Whether the unproven young hurlers rise to the occasion and make the Tomahawk Choppers breathe easier to start 2014 remains to be seen, but one should consider how last season began for Atlanta: the team started off hot and never looked back in the division. Each season is different and can change direction at the drop of a hat, but if this rotation is not careful, it could very well dig the Braves into a hole that even the best of second halves cannot overcome.