Braves likely to seek additional help for 'pen
Success of Walden, Avilan as setup men has helped offset key injuries
KANSAS CITY -- It appeared the Braves might be in trouble when Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters both underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in May. Within a span of a few days, the club lost its top setup man in O'Flaherty and any remaining hope that Venters might get healthy in time to at least provide bullpen depth during the season's second half.
But the Braves entered Wednesday's series finale against the Royals having compiled a 2.71 ERA in the 37 games they had played since losing O'Flaherty. The Blue Jays and Brewers were the only two Major League teams that compiled a better ERA during a stretch dating to May 18.
Still, the Braves are expected to attempt to land at least one veteran reliever before next month's Non-waiver Trade Deadline. While Jordan Walden and Luis Avilan have proven to be reliable as closer Craig Kimbrel's primary setup men, the Braves would like to add an experienced pitcher who could lessen the strain placed on Walden and Avilan down the stretch.
Avilan and Walden combined for three scoreless innings in the Braves 4-3 loss in 10 innings to the Royals on Wednesday.
The Braves are among the many teams expected to show interest in Cubs closer Kevin Gregg, who owns a 1.11 ERA in 25 appearances. Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez utilized Gregg as his closer while they were together with the Marlins in 2007 and '08.
Braves general manager Frank Wren surprised many this past offseason when he was able to acquire a pitcher of Walden's caliber in exchange for Tommy Hanson, who was likely going to be non-tendered if he had not been dealt to the Angels. But it is safe to say, Walden has proven to be even better than expected.
Walden missed most of Spring Training with a sore back and was sidelined for two weeks in May because of right shoulder inflammation. But in the 11 appearances he has made since returning from the disabled list, the former Angels closer has worked 11 1/3 scoreless innings and limited opponents to a .079 on-base percentage.
In his past 15 appearances entering Wednesday, Avilan logged 12 2/3 scoreless innings and limited opponents to a .143 on-base percentage.
While Avilan and Walden have provided indication they are capable of handling the setup duties, the remainder of the bullpen is made up of inexperienced relievers. Adding at least one more veteran arm would at least provide the Braves some more certainty during the middle innings.
Schafer stars in role as Braves' leadoff man
KANSAS CITY -- Jordan Schafer stands as the only legitimate leadoff hitter on Atlanta's roster and he was placed in that role for a fourth straight game on Wednesday night. But when the Braves return home for this weekend's series against the D-backs, manager Fredi Gonzalez will once again have to find ways to get Schafer in his lineup.
Schafer started the final two games of this past weekend's series against the Brewers while Justin Upton was dealing with a sore right hand. His presence in the lineup during this week's two-game series in Kansas City was made possible because the Braves were able to utilize Upton as their designated hitter.
"We'll look at matchups and maybe somebody will need a day off during a day game after a night game, and then we'll run [Schafer] in there," Gonzalez said.
Schafer played two more innings in the field after fouling a pitch off his right ankle during Wednesday's 4-3 loss in 10 innings to the Royals. He exited in the seventh and was relieved when X-rays taken after the game were negative. Gonzalez said he expects the outfielder will be available to play this weekend against the D-backs.
Schafer resuscitated his career while hitting .317 with nine stolen bases and a .406 on-base percentage in the 141 plate appearances he had compiled entering Wednesday's game against the Royals. Once a top prospect in Atlanta's organization, the 26-year-old outfielder rejoined the Braves after the Astros designated him for assignment this past offseason.
In the 19 starts he has made in the leadoff role, Schafer has hit .319 and compiled a .424 on-base percentage. The rest of the Braves who have filled the leadoff spot have combined to hit .227 with a .272 on-base percentage.
But with B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward manning the three outfield spots, Gonzalez is going to have to find ways to put Schafer in that leadoff spot.
• Despite having an off-day on Monday and another on Thursday, Gonzalez opted to rest starting catcher Brian McCann during Wednesday's series finale against the Royals. Along with wanting to get backup Gerald Laird some playing time, Gonzalez indicated that he is planning to start McCann in each of this weekend's three games against the D-backs.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.