The Braves got off to a hot start in their first week of the season, finishing with a 5-1 record. While this unit lost a lot of its luster after the Craig Kimbrel trade, they were still highly effective. A lot of the credit for these victories has to go to the bullpen, as they only allowed a single run in 20 1/3 innings. Do the math and the Braves bullpen has an astonishing 0.44 ERA, which is imply incredible. Yes, this is an extremely small sample size, but it’s an impressive statistic for a bullpen that features four rookies this season. Note that Juan Jaime was designated for assignment, as the Braves added Sugar Ray Marimon to the 25-Man Roster. The Braves only have one reliever on their roster left over from last season in Luis Avilan. Due to the lack of familiarity, let’s get to know our bullpen Braves fans:
Jason Grilli, RHP, 38. Twitter: @grillCheese49
2014 Statistics: 62 appearances, 54 innings pitched, 4.00 ERA, 57 Ks, 21 BB (PIT, LAA)
Jason Grilli is an established veteran who has been around forever, and has seemingly been everywhere. Since making his MLB debut back in 2000, Grilli has played for eight different teams. Grilli is somewhat of a strange case, as he actually had a career rejuvenation after having Tommy John Surgery back in 2009. Upon returning from TJS, Grilli put up career numbers for the Pirates, eventually becoming their full-time closer in 2013. That season, Grilli was a National League All-Star and closed 33 games. Grilli will assume the closer role in Atlanta after the departure of Craig Kimbrel. He started last season with the Pirates, but was traded to the Angels mid-season for Ernesto Frieri. He only put up a 4.00 ERA last season between the two clubs, but has looked electric so far for Atlanta in his closing situations thus far. The son of a Major Leaguer, Grilli is known for his clubhouse comradery, sense of humor and love for grilled cheese. He was signed to a two-year deal.
Jim Johnson, RHP, 31.
2014 Statistics: 54 appearances, 53.1 innings pitched, 7.09 ERA, 42 K’s, 35 BB, 2 SV (OAK, DET)
Don’t let the atrocious numbers fool you, Jim Johnson has great stuff. The sinkerballer had a rough year last season to say the least, and had a campaign to forget in 2014. Johnson, who was the Orioles closer for two seasons, was traded to the Oakland Athletics before the 2014 season. He struggled mightily in 38 appearances with the team due to serious control issues. Due to his ineffectiveness, Johnson was released on August 1st by the A’s. The Tigers picked up Johnson and took a chance on him returning to form, but no such luck. During his time with the A’s, former Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty told Johnson that Roger McDowell was the man who could fix his arm. Thus far, it appears McDowell has done just that. Johnson is yet to give up a run in the regular season and pitched to a 1.42 ERA this spring. Johnson is in command of his sinker, which is his strikeout pitch. Johnson had over 50 saves in both seasons as the Orioles closer, good for best in baseball both seasons. In 2012, he was voted an All-Star and even received some Cy Young and MVP votes. He received the AL Rolaids Relief Award that season. If Johnson can continue to pitch the way he has lately, he could be the best setup man in baseball this year, and possibly threaten Jason Grilli for the closing role.
Luis Avilan, LHP, 25. Twitter: @lavilan70
2014 Statistics: 62 appearances, 43.1 innings pitched, 4.57 ERA, 25 K’s, 21 BB (ATL)
Avilan is the only returning member of the Braves bullpen that had a significant amount of appearances last season. He looks to have a bounce-back year, as his stuff in 2014 was nothing compared to years past. Avilan put up ERAs of 2.00 and 1.52 in 2012 and 2013, and was one of the most effective lefty specialists in the game. However, last season he struggled, as his ERA inflated and his strikeout rate fell. Hitters hit .287 off Avilan, and he was even sent down to AAA at one point. But Avilan, who hails from Venezuela, appears to have regained his form, as he has looked great in all of his appearances so far this season. He also had a 2.00 ERA this spring. If Avilan can bounce back, he gives the Braves a huge advantage over left-handed hitters. If he struggles, expect an expanded role for fellow LHP Andrew McKirahan. Expect Avilan to be Fredi’s most utilized lefty.
Brandon Cunniff, RHP, 26. Twitter: @brandon_cunniff
2014 Statistics: 42 appearances, 68 innings, 1.59 ERA, 71 K’s, 27 BB (A+,AA)
Cunniff was initially a sleeper candidate to make the bullpen, but as the Braves kept parting away with relievers, his chances of making the Opening Day roster increased. After the Kimbrel trade, the Braves added Cunniff to the roster hours before Opening Day. Cunniff was absolutely lights out in the minors last year, as evidenced by his statistics. While his Spring numbers won’t jump out at you, as of Monday night he is still yet to allow a hit at the MLB level. Cunniff isn’t the biggest name in the bullpen, but has the chance to be an elite reliever in this league is he can have a glimpse of the success he had in the minor leagues.
Cody Martin, RHP, 25. Twitter: @zagsbaseball32
2014 Statistics: 27 appearances (26 Starts), 7-8 Record, 3.52 ERA, 142 K’s, 56 BB (AAA)
Spending last season with AAA Gwinnett as a starter, Cody Martin has earned a spot on the big league club as a reliever in 2015. The Gonzaga product, who is ranked 16th on our Braves Top Prospect List, is yet to give up a run this season between Spring Training and the Regular Season. Martin is a valuable asset to our bullpen as he has the ability to eat innings as well as make spot starts if needed. If Martin continues to pitch well, he could become a Starter candidate down the road. Martin’s father pitched for the Braves organization back in the 80’s, and he is happy to finish what his father started. Hopefully this is just the beginning for Cody.
Andrew McKirahan, LHP, 25. Twitter: @A_McKirahanJr
2014 Statistics: 44 appearances, 65 innings, 2.08 ERA, 57 K’s, 14 BB (A+, AA)
With the injury to Josh Outman late in Spring Training, the Braves opted to select Andrew McKirahan off waivers from the Marlins. McKirahan was originally selected by the Cubs, but they left him unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft. Since we claimed him from Miami, we would have to offer to return McKirahan to the Cubs if he fails to occupy a spot on the 25-Man Roster for the duration of the season. McKirahan has been used sparingly so far this season, but is one of two lefties in the bullpen (Avilan). His low walk rate and ability to get out left handers make McKirahan a valuable asset, and he had a nice Spring as well. If Avilan’s struggles continue over from last season, McKirahan could be a big contributor in Atlanta’s bullpen this season.
Sugar Ray Marimon, RHP, 26.
2014 Statistics: 22 appearances (21 starts), 5-6 record, 3.20 ERA, 84 K’s, 35 BB (Rk, AA, AAA)
Marimon is the newest member of Atlanta’s bullpen, as he was called up when the Braves announced they designated Juan Jaime for assignment Monday. Marimon came over from the Royals organization this past offseason, where he was used primarily as a starter. His 3.20 ERA from last season is promising, and he and Cody Martin will assume long relief duties at times. The 26-year old rookie from Colombia anxiously awaits his MLB debut.