Braves have options for the rotation

With Mark Redman struggling and Lance Cormier still out with shoulder trouble, the Braves may be considering other options for the rotation. The Braves Show's Bill Shanks has more.

When Mark Redman was signed back on March 9th, the Braves believed they were taking a good gamble on someone who could help replace the injured Mike Hampton. He was cheap and had achieved some success in the past as a bottom-of-the-rotation starter, so the team hoped Redman could provide some innings in the role as the fourth or fifth starter.

But we now obviously know why the entire offseason had passed with no team handing Redman an offer. His mediocre season in Kansas City last year was just that, and he's been downright horrible in the first month of the season for the Braves.

Yes, the start against the Cubs ten days ago was solid. But can the Braves afford to have a starting pitching do well only 25% of the time? Not if they hope to unseat the New York Mets this season as the National League East Champions.

The Braves are in a peculiar situation. They might have a replacement for Redman in Lance Cormier, and then again they might not. Cormier got good news late in the week when a MRI showed no structural damage to his right shoulder. But he's still got to go out and pitch pain-free a couple of times in the minor leagues before the Braves can cut their losses with Redman.

That's the first thing the Braves have to see: when can Cormier come back? If he can, then the team must make a decision. Do they send Kyle Davies down since he's already burned an option this year and keep Redman? What happens then if they release Redman and Cormier comes back but still has lingering trouble with the shoulder? Would they then regret releasing the veteran?

Like it or not, Bobby Cox does give veterans the benefit of the doubt, but even he knows how bad Redman has pitched this season. Okay, so we've heard Cox say ‘in my mind he's just finishing spring training' a couple of times, meaning that Redman's abbreviated spring training could be the reason he's had so much trouble. But the look on Cox's face the other day after Redman blew a 4-0 first inning lead spoke volumes.

Still, until Cormier proves he can stay healthy, can the Braves gamble on letting Redman go? What if he does give the team a couple of quality starts, as he did against the Cubs ten days ago? Okay, I know it's unlikely, but it's possible.

Chances are the Braves are already discussing their other options. Why wouldn't they? Redman has done nothing to make you want to keep him around any longer than possible, and Cormier is going to have to pitch for a month in the majors before erasing any concerns about his ability to stay healthy for the rest of the season.

So what are the internal options for the rotation? Let's take a look at a few:

Oscar Villarreal - He's the main long man in the bullpen right now, but ‘The Big O's' few starts last season might entice the Braves to give him another chance. Villarreal had a 3.50 ERA in his four starts last year, allowing seven runs in 18 innings. He's off to a good start this season, with only three walks and 15 strikeouts in 10.1 innings.

Rafael Soriano - Some have wondered if the Braves would be tempted to give switch Soriano to the rotation, but don't bet on it. The bullpen is doing too well to disrupt it right now, and with closer Bob Wickman having a few shaky outings Soriano might get a few save chances.

Macay McBride - Okay, so McBride started a game last week, but the Braves said it was only to work on the mechanical issues he's trying to improve. But Bobby Cox did mention McBride as an option back in spring training, so he's at least worth mentioning here. Remember, before the Braves decided McBride might develop into a solid reliever he was an outstanding starter in the lower levels of the minor leagues. But the Braves have to first make sure McBride can work out his control trouble, so a drastic move back to the rotation may be unlikely.

Anthony Lerew - He's had two short tryouts in the big leagues and has failed to make a positive impression on Cox, but Lerew seems to be turning it around this season in Richmond. Lerew has struggled the last two seasons, but his work with Guy Hansen, the Triple-A pitching coach, is working. Lerew is now throwing a two-seam fastball that is complimenting his other breaking pitches. He's allowed only four earned runs in his first four starts this year, so another couple of solid outings may make the Braves consider him for a promotion.

Trey Hodges - Remember how much he helped Atlanta in 2003? Well it's been a roller-coaster ride ever since for Hodges, who had hand surgery a little over a year ago. He's still working on getting more velocity back and needs more time before being considered for a return trip to Atlanta.

Kevin Barry - The right-hander has done well in his first three starts, but the Braves still believe Barry could help out more in a relief role if needed than as a starter. He had one start last season with the Braves and did not do well against Milwaukee, so it's unlikely he'd get another chance. But if the bullpen needs an arm later in the year, Barry will be a candidate.

Matt Harrison - Here's the interesting option in my opinion. Harrison won Bobby Cox over with an impressive spring training, prompting the Atlanta Manager to say the young lefty could be called upon this season. He's continued his good work with a solid start in Double-A, posting a 3-0 record and a 2.45 ERA in his first four starts. If the Braves believed they were going to need someone for the rest of the season, Harrison might get the call.

Jo Jo Reyes

Like Harrison, Reyes is off to a great start so far this season. He's allowed only four runs on 11 hits in his first four games. Reyes is a bit behind Harrison as far as the timeline, but some believe he can be just as good in the long run. But with Harrison ahead of him now, it's doubtful Reyes will get the chance this summer.

Dan Smith

Late last year Smith was moved into the rotation to work on his pitches, and ever since he's established himself as a legit starting pitching prospect. He continues to just shut down hitters, but like Reyes he's behind Harrison right now. These three lefties in Double-A are very good options, and the one pitching the best might get the call if needed later this season.

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The circumstances may dictate the decision that will be made. If the Braves simply want to replace Redman and hope Cormier can come back at some point soon, then Villarreal might get the chance for a few starts. But if a starter is needed for a longer time period, then the other options could be considered.

I understand the hesitancy to part with Redman, even though he's been horrible. The Braves simply don't know if they can count on Cormier or not. Yes, the MRI was good news, but Lance has still got to go out there and prove he's healthy and is ready for work in the rotation for the rest of the season. So until he does that, it might be hard to release Redman.

But if he continues to struggle, there may not be a choice but to release him. I think Harrison is the wildcard here. If he proves to the Braves that he's ready for the shot, Bobby Cox might give him that chance. Cox really liked Harrison in spring training and has not been afraid in the past to give a kid a chance if he thought the young kid could handle the big league stage.

The Braves could release Redman and then bring Harrison up, and then if Cormier comes back Harrison could easily be sent right back down to the minors. But who knows, Harrison might stick and the Braves might have a solid starter in the rotation for the rest of the season. Then Cormier could either replace Kyle Davies if he struggles or go back to the bullpen.

Inserting Harrison into the rotation would also give the club a few months to see if they needed to pursue a pitcher in a trade. If Harrison did well, then they could possibly instead focus on getting another outfielder instead of a starting pitcher. So it might behoove them to at least give Harrison a shot before going out and pursuing an expensive arm for the rotation.

Harrison is an outstanding prospect. Remember, he doesn't turn 22 until August 16th so he's still very young. But he's been successful each year he's been in the Braves' farm system and might be proving right now that he's very close to being ready to contribute at the big league level.

Either way, the Braves have to be considering their options. Mark Redman has been a failure so far. He was a good and logical gamble, but for whatever reason Redman is just not someone you want out there every fifth day. And with Cormier still a question mark the Braves might have to soon make a decision that will affect the rotation for the rest of the season.


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, 105.5 the Fan in Macon, and the Atlanta Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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