Braves bullpen takes hit with McKirahan news

Braves lefty reliever Andrew McKirahan has been suspended 80 days. How will that impact the Braves bullpen?

The Braves will have to juggle the bullpen with the news that rookie left-handed reliever Andrew McKirahan has been suspended for 80 games after testing positive for Ipamorelin, a performance-enhancing drug.

McKirahan has pitched in three games and has allowed two earned runs in 4.1 innings, with one walk and two strikeouts. He last pitched on Sunday and recorded two outs against the Blue Jays.

The Braves got McKirahan off waivers from the Marlins in spring training. He's a Rule V player, so the Braves had to keep him on the 25-man Atlanta roster all season or offer him back to the Cubs, his original team. The Braves have been impressed with McKirahan's arm, so it's unlikely they will want to lose him, even with this news.

It is not known whether a Rule V player can be allowed to go to the minor leagues to get ready to return to the big league roster under the conditions of the Rule V restrictions. Since he is required to remain on the big league roster, McKirahan may be forced to go right back to Atlanta once the suspension is over. The Braves could place him on the phantom disabled list to give him time to prepare for a return to Atlanta.

The Braves will likely promote left-hander Ian Thomas to replace McKirahan on the roster. Thomas pitched in 16 games with Atlanta last season and had a 4.22 ERA. This year he started the season in Double-A Mississippi and did not allow a hit or run in three innings of work. When the Braves promoted Sugar Ray Marimon to Atlanta, Thomas was sent to Gwinnett as his replacement. Thomas has had two solid innings in Triple-A, with 3.1 innings, one hit allowed, no walk and three strikeouts.

Atlanta's front office will likely see if they can acquire a veteran lefty before Tuesday's game in New York. That's not always easy to do in April, so Thomas is the best internal candidate.

The Braves have been fortunate so far with Luis Avilan doing great work as a lefty reliever. Avilan has not allowed a run in seven games, with one walk and four strikeouts.

This is a concern, however, considering the number of games pitched by the other rookie relievers in Atlanta's bullpen. Cody Martin and Brandon Cunniff have both pitched in seven of the 12 games played so far by the Braves. Avilan and Jim Johnson have also pitched in seven games.

Donnie Veal is also another option. The lefty is in Triple-A Gwinnett and has had five scoreless appearances. Veal has big league experience, with 100 games out of the bullpen - 81 for the White Sox and 19 for the Pirates. The Braves signed Veal as a minor league free agent over the offseason. Veal is not on the 40-man roster at this time.

You have to wonder if Trevor Cahill struggles again in his start Tuesday if the Braves would consider moving Cahill to the bullpen. They would have to promote one of the young starters in Triple-A to do that, and that seems something the Braves are hesitant to do as they hope to get pitchers like Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler, Williams Perez and Manny Banuelos more innings in Triple-A.

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