Braves’ starting rotation could be quite problematic

 LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Welcome to the last 2 ½ weeks of spring training, and the stark realization, that the Braves, for as bright as their long-term future appears to be, have got at least one serious issue for the here and now.

Their starting rotation.

Matt Wisler has just 19 major league starts, but might be the second-best starter in a suspect Braves rotation entering the 2016 season. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

Matt Wisler has just 19 major league starts, but might be the second-best starter in a suspect Braves rotation entering the 2016 season. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

They traded away Shelby Miller and got a huge haul in return from the Diamondbacks, and everyone in baseball agrees the Braves “won” that trade. Fleeced the Dbacks, in fact.

Problem is, the Braves traded away Miller’s 205 innings (3.02 ERA) and replaced him with … Jhoulys Chacin? Kyle Kendrick? Chris Volstad?

Kendrick and Volstad are already gone, released after it quickly became apparent they didn’t have anything left, or at least not anything that could help a major league team – even a team with as little proven, healthy starting pitching as the Braves.

Chacin, after two years struggling with shoulder issues, is healthy and pitching as well or better than could be expected, but his eight-hits-in-three-innings performance Wednesday against the Cardinals was a reminder that folks should not be expecting the guy to be the savior of the rotation or to even begin to fill Miller’s shoes.

And right now, Chacin isn’t just projected to be in the opening-day rotation, he might be the No. 4 starter and not the No. 5, unless the Braves go with Williams Perez, who has pitched his way into serious consideration for a spot in the rotation after, for some reason, not being among the leading candidates mentioned in the first few weeks of camp before Kendrick and Volstad flamed out.

The Braves don’t really know who’ll fill that fifth spot, but they’re so desperate — or at least they were before Perez’ most recent good outing — they’ve been hoping either Mike Foltynewicz or Manny Banuelos, each coming back from September surgery, can be ready by April 12, the seventh game of the season and the first day the Braves will need a No. 5.

That’s Foltynewicz, who didn’t begin light-tossing until Christmas and will make his spring debut today (March 17), and Banuelos, who has pitched once this spring and gave up six hits and four runs in that March 12 outing while throwing fastballs mostly in the 88-89 mph range.

Both are promising young pitchers and “Folty” has a great arm and looked sharp in his two simulated innings Friday (March 11), the first time he faced hitters since September. But that’s the thing – it was the first time he faced hitters since September. He has time for only three Grapefruit League starts, then would presumably make one more in a minor league game somewhere before his regular season debut March 12.

But that’s where the Braves are with this rotation. They have as many or more high-level pitching prospects than any team in baseball, but none of those guys, including Aaron Blair, lefty Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims or Tyrell Jenkins, is ready to step into the rotation right now. No way. We’ve seen that this spring.

So unless the Braves can work out a trade or waiver claim in the next few weeks….

Hey, and let’s not act as if the first three spots are rock-solid either. Julio Teheran is a legit frontline starter, and Matt Wisler was the best of the young starters who pitched for the Braves last season and looks poised for a solid season in his first full year in the big leagues. Still, he has 19 major league starts, and he looks like the second-best guy in the rotation right now.

Bud Norris, the other of the trio that came to camp with rotation spots all but assured, was available for a one-yea, $2.5 million contract for a reason. Because he had a 6.72 ERA in 38 games (11 starts) last season for the Orioles and Padres. Baltimore first dropped him from its rotation, then from its roster.

He’s healthy this year after a terrible bout with  bronchitis last season, and Norris pitched well in his first two spring starts, then gave up nine hits and six runs in three innings against the Tigers this week. His defense let him down in that game, but there were several balls blistered, too.

The Braves are counting on Norris to be a lot closer to the guy who had a career-best season in 2014 (15-8, 3.65) than the one who had a career-worst season in ’15. But given their lack of depth that’s ready right now, penciling him in as No. 2 or No. 3 starter before camp began looks like a pretty big gamble for a team that wants badly to avoid another 95-loss season.

There is little doubt the Braves’ pitching is going to get a lot better by 2017, if for no other reason than at least a couple of those starting-pitcher prospects are going to be ready by then, and will likely have an opportunity to get some experience in the big leagues later this season.

Also, the Braves will have significantly higher revenues moving into their new ballpark in 2017, and plan to spend a lot more on payroll. Count on this: They will not go into that first season in the new ballpark with big question marks in the starting rotation. If a couple of the prospects aren’t ready to play big roles, look for them to sign a free agent and/or make a trade or two to bolster the rotation next winter if necessary.

But for now? Well, it remains to be seen if they’re willing or able to add any pitcher to help solidify the rotation for this season. And if they go with what they have now, well, let’s just say the bullpen is likely to be tested severely in the opening weeks of the season.

Again.

• On a brighter note, on this St. Patrick’s Day let’s close with this spectacular live version of one of Van “The Man” Morrison‘s perfect tunes.

“INTO THE MYSTIC” by Van Morrison

Van Morrison

Van Morrison

We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home
And when the fog horn blows I want to hear it
I don’t have to fear it

And I want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And magnificently we will flow into the mystic

When that fog horn blows you know I will be coming home
And when that fog horn whistle blows I got to hear it
I don’t have to fear it

And I want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And together we will flow into the mystic
Come on girl…

Too late to stop now…

 

 


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