Braves need to end couple of skids in D.C.

 

 WASHINGTON – We don’t know if a 26-year-old lefty reliever with no big-league experience, who pitched for the independent-league Sugar Land Skeeters during part of 2015, can do much to solidify the Braves’ leaky bullpen and enhance their chances against the Nationals.

But we’re pretty sure that Hunter Cervenka can only help at this point.

Cervenka will arrive from Double-A to join the Braves for tonight’s series opener at Nationals Park. The Braves will hope the relatively unknown pitcher can help them try to contain Bryce Harper and end a couple of streaks: a five-game winless streak to start the season and a 10-game skid at Nationals Park.

The Braves hope 26-year-old rookie Hunter Cervenka can help their leaky bullpen. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Braves hope 26-year-old rookie Hunter Cervenka can help their leaky bullpen. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Braves lost all 10 games at Nats Park in 2015, just the seventh time since 1900 that a team went winless for a season on the road at a ballpark in which they played at least nine games.

Cervenka will take the spot of right-hander Dan Winkler, who fractured his elbow throwing a pitch in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals. Watching Winkler get hurt and go to his knees in pain was terrible. Good dude, and he had worked his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2014 to be one of the Braves’ few effective relievers in spring training and the first week of the season before reinjuring the elbow.

The addition of Cervenka gives the Braves two lefties in the bullpen as he joins Eric O’Flaherty, who’s not the O’Flaherty he was in his previous stint with the Braves and is still figuring out how to pitch with the stuff he has now.

Meanwhile, the bullpen, with its many reclamation projects or relatively unproven arms, had a very rough first week, blowing late-innings leads in four of the five games. (Relievers certainly weren’t alone in blame as defensive gaffes directly led to a couple of losses).

Braves relievers have allowed a majors-worst .423 opponents’ OBP, and their 8.66 ERA and .978 opponents’ OPS are second-worst in majors, ahead of only Colorado’s relievers in each category.

In Cervenka, they have a guy who spent parts of eight seasons in the minors and hasn’t pitched in the majors. He hasn’t given up an earned run in 23 2/3 innings in the Braves’ minor league system since joining the organization last year, and Cervenka impressed in spring training in a couple of appearances when he brought back over for Grapefruit League games after being reassigned to minor league camp on March 14.

Cervenka has a 4.56 ERA in 205 games (23 starts) in the minors, including 19 appearances for Braves affiliates, with 33 strikeouts and 10 walks in 23 2/3 innings. He pitched 16 2/3 innings at Triple-A Gwinnett last season, and in three innings this season at Double-A he allowed one hit and one walk.

Cervenka will be in a major league uniform less than a year after pitching for the Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters in the independent Atlanta League.

The Braves need bullpen help and particularly need help against lefty batters. Against lefties, Braves pitchers have a .325 opponents’ average and 1.063 OPS, second-worst second-worst in the majors in each category. Braves pitchers have allowed the majors’ second-most walks (16) against lefty batters.

Keep in mind, there are a lot of dangerous left-handed hitters in the NL East.

• Offensive woes: It’s not just pitching and defense that have let down the Braves. Their hitters are batting .198 overall with a .595 OPS that’s third-lowest in the majors, ahead of only the Angels and Mets.

They’ll make do without leadoff man Ender Inciarte for a couple of weeks, as he’s been placed on the DL with a strained hamstring. One positive: Braves fans will get a look at dynamic center-field prospect Mallex Smith sooner than expected. Smith is in D.C. and will be added to the 25-man roster before the series opener.

• Speaking of lefties, Braves hitters are just 7-for-45 (.156) against lefty pitchers, with a .428 OPS that’s second-lowest in the majors ahead of only Baltimore. And the Orioles only have 17 official at-bats against lefties (1-for-17), while against righties they have eight homers and a .929 OPS. The Braves, on the other hand, have a .659 OPS vs. right-handers.

The Braves have a 6.65 ERA and just 17 runs scored (three homers) through five games. Seven of those runs came in Sunday’s 12-7 loss. Braves have five or fewer hits in three of five games.

• Remember 42-42? After posting a .500 record with a 3.90 ERA and 331 runs scored in 84 games last season through July 7, the Braves are 25-58 with a 5.07 ERA and 259 runs scored in their past 83 games. They went 6-31 on the road last season after July 7.

Here’s one from a fine, underrated band, Reckless Kelly.

“VANCOUVER” by Reckless Kelly

Reckless Kelly

Reckless Kelly

When the sun went down
You were sitting under someone else’s sunset
And I wasn’t around
And you were wishing that I was a guy that you’d just met

And I was probably stumbling down some back street alley in Amsterdam
While you were making excuses and breaking another heart
Or maybe I was drinking wine with the pigeons in a square in Venice
And I was wondering what you’re doing
And wondering where you are

When the stars came out
I was sitting in a studio on Sunset
And the lights were down
And I was wishing the time we had wasn’t over yet

And you were probably sitting in the airport waiting on a plane to Vegas
While I was packing a suitcase staring at a waiting car
Or maybe you were heading out to some house party on Lake Austin
And I was wondering what you’re doing
And wondering where you are

When my luck ran out
I was sitting on a concrete block in Little Rock
We didn’t scream or shout
We just said good-bye
And I waited for the click
And the lights went out

And now I’m packing it up and I’m rollin’ on out to Vancouver
For some wasted youth and a fresh set of lonely stars
And I’m wondering baby, if you ever saw the best of us
And I’m wondering what you’re doing
And wondering where you are

I still wonder what you’re doing
And wonder where you are


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