Posts Tagged ‘Tommy John surgery


Can Braves rotation withstand the loss of Vazquez?

It’s day two of the Braves’ voluntary two-week, pre-spring training pitching camp at Turner Field, a program created and designed by former pitching coach Leo Mazzone to help the team’s pitchers get back on the mound early to alleviate the off-season rust.

The program, which was formerly known as “Camp Leo”, is now run by Roger McDowell but still preaches the same formula for success that has helped the Atlanta Braves build a pitching dynasty over the years.

This year’s camp opened yesterday with the club’s starting staff already facing a bounty of questions about how they plan to duplicate last season’s numbers.

Braves starters led the majors with a 3.52 ERA while compiling the second most innings (986), proving to be a steady and durable force in 2009.

Entering Spring Training this year, Atlanta is trying to maintain that level of excellence minus one very critical piece — their workhorse ace Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA) was traded to the Yankees in December after the Braves found themselves with one starter too many.

Many baseball pundits question whether this year’s staff can withstand the loss of Vazquez?

If the Braves rotation hopes to replicate last season’s success, the majority of the load that was carried by Vazquez now shifts to 34-year-old Tim Hudson.

The Braves opted to re-sign Hudson to a three-year, $28-million dollar extension in November after the former 20-game winner made a successful return from Tommy John surgery late last year.

In seven starts after re-joining the Braves rotation, Hudson went 2-1 with a solid 3.61 ERA.

Hudson joins a staff comprised of Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami.

Jurrjens and Hanson are the team’s rising young stars and should serve as the backbone of this rotation for the foreseeable future.

Atlanta should also benefit from getting a full season out of Tommy Hanson, who finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting this winter.

The Braves called up their rookie sensation in June and watched Hanson soar to an 11-4 record with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts.

Atlanta is hoping Lowe bounces back and enjoys a resurgent season after the veteran righty struggled in his first year with the Braves.

While still netting 15 wins for the club, Lowe also posted a 4.67 ERA, second-highest of his career.

Kawakami is expected to improve in his second season in the U.S.

The Japanese standout was a 33-year-old rookie last season and ended the year with an impressive 3.86 ERA despite a 7-12 record.

Despite losing Vazquez, Atlanta’s rotation is still stacked with a plethora of talent and a good mix of youth and experience.

Whether the talent on paper translates to wins on the field rests largely on not just the starters but the entire staff’s ability to stay healthy.

Atlanta’s additions of Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito at the back end of their bullpen should benefit the rotation by giving the team security late in games.

But, with Wagner’s history of injuries and the age of these hurlers, it is critical that both relievers don’t get overworked in an effort to preserve them for the duration of the season.

The good news is the always pitching rich Braves have the pieces in place yet again to put up impressive numbers while contending for a playoff spot.

It is not often a team could lose a Cy Young candidate, like the Braves did in Vazquez, and still have a chance to have arguably one of the deepest rotations in baseball.

All these years later, the importance of a pre-spring training pitching camp is not lost on the Braves or the pitchers who jump at the opportunity to participate in it.


Braves hope Hudson holds key to Wild Card berth…

Braves right-hander Tim Hudson

Braves right-hander Tim Hudson

One day after his 2009 season debut was delayed, Tim Hudson is finally ready to re-join the Atlanta Braves rotation.

Originally slated to take the mound in the opening game of the series for Atlanta, Hudson’s start was pushed back to Tuesday, September 1, the day when Major League rosters expand. The Braves’ decision to wait on activating Hudson was due largely to the fact that the team has been struggling with injuries to their outfield, and now won’t have to make a move to clear a spot for their hurler.

Hudson, who has missed over a year of action due to Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, is set to make his first start of the season in ironically the same ballpark (Land Shark Stadium) against the same opponent (the Florida Marlins) where he made his last ill-fated start on July 23, 2008, when elbow discomfort forced him to exit the game.

Less than a week later, Hudson saw his season end, as he went under the knife to repair the extensive damage in his elbow.

But, don’t expect Hudson to get caught up in any feelings of deja vu.

Too much is at stake for Hudson’s Braves, who find themselves just three games behind the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants in the hotly contested National League Wild Card race.

And, making this four-game series with the Marlins even more critical for the Braves is the fact that Florida is right on Atlanta’s heels, only four games back in Wild Card hunt.

Atlanta won the opener 5-2 last night in impressive fashion, rallying for three runs in the 7th inning against Marlins ace Josh Johnson, who had held the Braves hitless for the previous 5 2/3 innings.

Omar Infante’s clutch two-run triple aided Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami’s six strong innings of one run baseball en route to what could be touted as the biggest victory of the season for Atlanta thus far.

Hudson has enjoyed great success against Florida in his career.

The Braves right-hander is 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 13 career starts against the Marlins, including a 5-1 record and 2.59 ERA in eight career starts at Land Shark Stadium.

And, before being forced to exit his last start against them over a year ago, he had allowed only three hits over six scoreless innings.

Tonight, Hudson will oppose Marlins right-hander Anibal Sanchez, in hopes of making it two in a row for the Braves against the Fish in this make-or-break series.

The 34-year-old Hudson’s future with Atlanta beyond this year remains uncertain. His contract includes a $12 million dollar team option with a $1 million dollar buyout for 2010.

Beyond his desire of helping to contribute to the Braves’ hopes of playing October baseball, Hudson is also pitching to show the club that he can still be a valuable member of their rotation plans going forward.

His long journey back to the Majors is finally here.

The Braves and their fans can only wait with baited breath to see if the old Tim Hudson has returned for good.


Hudson targets August return…

Braves right-hander Tim Hudson

Braves right-hander Tim Hudson

Tim Hudson is one step closer to returning to the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves right-hander, who continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery, tossed a 90-pitch bullpen session Thursday in preparation for his first minor league rehabilitation start for Class A Myrtle Beach on July 19.

Huddy looked impressive and barring any setbacks, he could re-join the Braves as early as August 25.

However, the Braves may choose to be cautious with Hudson and wait until September when the roster expands before activating him from the disabled list.

With that in mind, an interesting question remains: Where do the Braves put Huddy?

Atlanta’s starting rotation of Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami, and rookie Tommy Hanson has been mighty impressive.

Lowe, the anchor of the staff, is 7-6 on the season. But, his record is deceiving, as a recent season-high three game losing streak marred what had been a solid season.

Jurrjens has proven to be the Braves most reliable starter all season long but has been the victim of poor run support. With an ERA of 2.73 on the year and after flirting with a no-hitter against the division leading Phillies on Wednesday, Jurrjens continues to strengthen his case for a spot on the National League All-Star team.

Vazquez is quietly racking up the “K’s” with 130 on the season and finds himself trailing only San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum’s 132 for the NL lead in strikeouts. Vazquez has also suffered at the hands of an often punchless Braves offense. Over his past seven starts, he finds himself 1-4 with a 2.06 ERA.

Japanese newcomer Kenshin Kawakami is 4-6 on the year with a 4.25 ERA but has shown steady progress while transitioning to baseball in the United States.

Rookie Tommy Hanson has been nothing short of brilliant in his early stint with the Braves. Hanson is 4-0 with a 2.48 ERA and is coming off a gutsy performance against the Boston Red Sox, where he helped the Braves avoid a sweep while suffering with a bad case of the flu. Hanson also hasn’t allowed a run in 20 consecutive innings, which helped him nab NL Rookie of the Month honors.

The Braves deep rotation is a stark contrast from last season’s staff which saw four out of the five projected starters go down with injuries. GM Frank Wren’s goal of restructuring the Braves rotation this past off-season has so far paid dividends. So much so that the team is hard pressed to fit a former All-Star and 20-game winner into the fold.

I can’t imagine the Braves sending Hudson to the bullpen, as some have speculated. There is no question, if healthy, the Atlanta Braves rotation will be that much better with Tim Hudson in it. But, the health question is a big “if.” Huddy is coming off of major reconstructive arm surgery and no one can be certain if he will be effective and if his arm will hold up. But, if he proves to be durable and the Hudson of old, the Braves will be that much more dangerous heading down the stretch.

My guess is Kawakami will be the odd man out of the Braves rotation when Hudson returns. I actually feel Kawakami could thrive in the bullpen. He experienced arm fatigue during Spring Training and at times during the season, so pitching fewer innings should be less taxing on his arm. It also may help him be more aggressive when going after hitters because he will be used in a more situational role.

Regardless of what the Braves decide to do, one thing is for sure: you can never have too much pitching. And, when teams with playoff aspirations are scrambling to pick up a veteran arm or two for the stretch run, the Braves are afforded the luxury of gaining an ace caliber pitcher without having to give up anything in return.



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