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June 21, 2012

What You Need to Know

Thursday, June 21

by Daniel Rathman

The Wednesday Takeaway
In the latest reminder that you can never have too much pitching depth, the Braves have lost Brandon Beachy for the rest of the 2012 season, after a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews revealed that the righty will need Tommy John surgery.

Fredi Gonzalez began the year with a strong group of starters—even with Tim Hudson on the disabled list—and plenty of possible reinforcements. When Jair Jurrjens coughed up five home runs and 10 walks in his first four starts, Atlanta had the luxury of sending him down, because Hudson was finally healthy and Randall Delgado was emerging as a reliable rotation piece.

Now, with seven pitchers having made starts for the Braves this season, Gonzalez and Frank Wren face a more formidable challenge.

Beachy, who had been Atlanta’s best starter to date, logging a 2.00 ERA and a 68-to-29 K/BB over 81 innings, is gone. Mike Minor, who has a 6.04 ERA for the season and has served up 15 homers in 76 innings, might benefit from a Jurrjens-like trip to Gwinnett if the Braves had someone to take his place. Jurrjens himself has not exactly found his footing in Triple-A yet, with a 5.18 ERA overall and three clunkers in his last six starts. And top prospect Julio Teheran is still working through the lumps 21-year-olds in the upper minors often encounter.

If there’s one bit of good news for the Braves, it’s that Kris Medlen—who underwent Tommy John surgery last year—was stretched out before returning to the majors as a reliever and could reemerge as a starter in the future if necessary. But even that comes with a caveat: Gonzalez currently needs Medlen in his bullpen because Jonny Venters is struggling and Eric O’Flaherty is nursing a sore elbow.

With a deep rotation, last year’s top big-league bullpen, and a bevy of 20-something-year-old arms,at the start of the season, the Braves were as strong a bet as any contender not to be in the market for pitching this July. But with those young pitchers scuffling and the bullpen overtaxed, the worst-case scenario with Beachy may be the perfect storm that forces Wren to make a move.

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • The Cardinals and Tigers will settle their series this afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET), as 21-year-old Jacob Turner makes his 2012 debut for the home team. The young righty was smacked around to the tune of an 8.53 ERA in three starts last season, but he had a 3.43 ERA for Triple-A Toledo this year and is ready to try his luck again.
  • A.J. Ellis’ batting average has finally dipped below .300 after consecutive hitless games, but he continues to walk, walk, and… walk. The Dodgers’ catcher is just 9-for-42 (.214) this month, but he has drawn 12 free passes, keeping his on-base percentage in June at a robust .400 and his season mark at .422. If he doesn’t sit out the getaway day matinee (3:35 p.m. ET), Ellis will catch Clayton Kershaw, who takes on Oakland’s Travis Blackley.
  • One key to James McDonald’s improvement this season has been his ability to retire left-handed batters, who have managed only a .197/.263/.286 triple slash against him in 2012 after teeing off at a .302/.390/.416 clip last year. That newfound success could be put to the test if Joe Mauer is ready to return to the starting lineup for the first time since suffering a bruised thigh on Sunday, or if Ron Gardenhire calls on Mauer as a pinch-hitter tonight (7:05 p.m. ET). The Twins will counter with Liam Hendriks, who will be making his 10th career start but is still searching for his first win. 
  • Thursday’s best duel may take place in the nation’s capital, where the Rays and Nationals will play a rubber match tonight (7:05 p.m. ET). Matt Moore—who appears to be back on track, with at least eight strikeouts in three of his last four starts—faces Gio Gonzalez, who continues to pitch well but has backed off his otherworldly early-season pace, watching his ERA rise from 1.98 to 2.52 over the past month. Just remember to play by the rules, guys.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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