A week ago, after the Braves were swept by the Phillies, it was questionable whether the Braves would even be able to find a group of five reliable starters to put in their rotation. None of Julio Teheran, Bryse Wilson, and Kyle Wright made it beyond the fifth inning, and all gave up at least three earned runs. The clamoring for Dallas Keuchel reached its pinnacle, and it is difficult to say the pleading was unwarranted – even after three measly games.
Fast forward ten days, Brian Snitker is facing a whole different issue: Which five guys is he going to keep in the starting rotation?
Mike Foltynewicz has completed two rehab starts in Gwinnett without any setbacks. Yesterday, he tossed 61 pitches plus some bullpen work during a rain delay. Providing he doesn’t have any unexpected arm soreness; the plan is for him to be in Atlanta by the end of the week. Foltynewicz is the undisputed Ace of the staff. As long as he’s healthy, he will be atop the rotation.
Kevin Gausman returned from the Injured List against the Marlins on April 5th. The former Baltimore Oriole continued his stellar work with the Braves, pitching seven strong, allowing two hits with seven strikeouts. Like Folty, Gausman’s a lock to remain near the top of the rotation.
Then there is Max Fried. The 25-year old finally received an opportunity to start against the Cubs in the second series of the season and dazzled. Fried set down 17 batters in a row before allowing a hit. He would finish with six scoreless innings of one-hit baseball.
In his second start last night, Fried looked no different – this time facing the Colorado Rockies and the menace that is Coors Field. That did not bother Fried, who came in with the same approach of attacking the lineup with his 95 MPH fastball to both sides of the plate. Once again, he went six innings without allowing an earned run. The lefty is for real, and given how top-notch his stuff is, Fried could be Ace #2 by season’s end.
Those are three guys that were not even in the Opening Day rotation now occupying the top three spots. Two spots remain, but there many more options the Braves could turn to.
Julio Teheran had his first rocky start in Denver. He gave up six runs in the fifth inning after not allowing a hit in the first four innings. However, before that, Teheran had been the Braves most consistent option. The velocity has been better, and he’s striking batters at a 10.2/9 innings clip, which would be the highest of his career. For now, Teheran will rightfully remain in the group.
After that, it gets tricky. Sean Newcomb is the obvious choice. He has a couple of years of major league experience under his belt and the stuff to be a top of the rotation pitcher like Max Fried. The problem is Newcomb cannot find his control. The Braves will continue to stick with him because he is a 25-year old with substantial upside, but there will be a short leash attached because of the quartet of pitchers battling for his spot behind him.
While the year is young, the Braves will probably stick with a six-man rotation, especially considering all of the minor arm injuries their pitchers have undergone over the last two months. Kyle Wright will likely be sticking around for the time being. Wright was eye-popping in spring training and has shown similar ability in his first two starts in the majors. He deserves to be in the big leagues, but at some point, this rotation is going to have to be trimmed down to five, which will be even more challenging once Mike Soroka is fully healthy.
Yes, the 21-year old top prospect is currently strengthening his arm in Gwinnett. Soroka has started in one game and was flawless, going five innings without allowing a baserunner and striking out seven. It’s only a matter of time before this talent is healthy enough to be back, adding more fuel to the conversation. And that does not even include the likes of Touki Touissant, who was electric at times for the Braves last season and will be begging for his opportunity again this year, and Bryse Wilson, who began the year as the #2 starter in the Opening Day rotation.
When breaking it all down, there a quite a few grueling decisions Brian Snitker and the front office are going to have to make. Could you imagine if Alex Anthopoulos actually went out and spent $20 million on a pitcher like Keuchel? That would have been a monumental waste of money. The Braves have an overload of arms, and many are going to be outstanding players. It is going to be intriguing to see how it pans out, but one has to believe that some of these pitchers will be on the trade block if the Braves remain in contention when the trade deadline arrives.