It is no secret that the Atlanta Braves are loaded with pitching talent. While the myriad options provide the Braves with all kinds of flexibility in the rotation, the problem surfaces in finding spots for all of them. With general manager Frank Wren indicating the dwindling likelihood of the club making a deal before Spring Training, let's have a look at who will fill the first four spots of the rotation.
As the only pitcher over 25, Tim Hudson is the de facto ace and veteran of the rotation. As the 36-year-old sinkerball pitcher enters his eighth season as a Brave, Hudson is coming off two seasons of a career rebirth of sorts after Tommy John surgery in late 2008. He has won 33 games in the last two years with a 3.02 ERA. While he plunked a career high 15 batters last year, he also had a career high 2.82 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. All the grounders he induces also keeps the infielders on their toes.
Hudson had surgery for a herniated disc in his back in November that had been around for a couple of years. The team plans on bringing Hudson back slowly and responsibly, and the worst case scenario is that he will be back by early May.
The second spot in the rotation ought to belong to Tommy Hanson. Hanson was lights out in the first half, going 10-4 with a 2.44 ERA, but he struggled through a shoulder injury in the second half to the tune of 1-3 with an 8.10 ERA in five starts before being sidelined for the rest of the season after a particularly ugly start against the New York Mets on Aug. 6. Even with the rough second half, Hanson still managed to strikeout 9.8 batters per nine innings.
All reports this winter are that the tear in his shoulder has healed properly and that he will start Spring Training with no restrictions, so expect Hanson to put up numbers more reminiscent of his first half of 2011.
As of now, Jair Jurrjens should be penciled in the third spot, if only because he has yet to be traded (and very well may not be after all). Jurrjens pitched well in 2011. That is, when he pitched. While he did go 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA, he only made 23 starts and 20 starts in 2010.
Jurrjens was reportedly ready to go the week after the regular season ended and probably would have pitched had the Braves made the playoffs. Regardless, he, like Hanson, will enter Spring Training with a clean bill of health.
Brandon Beachy will see a bit of a promotion from last season, when he was named the fifth starter over Mike Minor, to the fourth spot. Beachy broke the Braves single season rookie record for strikeouts in a season with 169 in 141 2/3 innings. He possesses excellent control and a solid change-up that he can throw in any count. Beachy would have made more than his 25 starts had he not strained an oblique early in the season.
The core of the Braves' rotation is surely the envy of many a ballclub, but their prospects and potential fifth starters are in such demand that Wren had to inform potential trade partners that they were not available. Those coveted arms will covered tomorrow.
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