June 27, 2012

Fredi’s Challenge

Before Tuesday night’s game, Fredi Gonzalez issued a challenge for his starting pitchers. For the remaining thirteen games before the All-Star break, Fredi challenged his starters to complete at least six or seven innings. Coming into the series opener against the Diamondbacks, Atlanta’s starters averaged less than six innings per start and ranked 26th in the MLB for innings pitched by starters. With Venters struggling mightily and EOF dealing with the lingering effects of an elbow injury, the bullpen could definitely benefit from a lightened workload.

I like what Fredi’s trying to do with this statement, and he’s chosen a good time to do it. Carrying momentum into the All-Star break would be a big boost for the second half of the season. Also, we’ve got three home games this week against the Nationals, and we’ll have to face both Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. The Braves have just one win in five games against the Nats this season. Taking two out of three from the division-leaders before the end of the first half can prove that we are real contenders this year.

Huddy answered the call in a big way, pitching eight innings of one-run ball and picking up the win. This is a perfect opportunity for our hurlers to get involved in some friendly competition. Hopefully Hanson can throw seven strong tonight to get a streak going. Then JJ gets a chance to show that his brilliant comeback against the Red Sox was no fluke, that he’s no longer a minor league pitcher, that he can provide consistency in the rotation. No one wants to be the guy to drop the ball and end the streak, which just serves to add a little more motivation to every start. Perhaps this is the chance our team needs to put some energy and excitement in the clubhouse.

Fredi’s other major statement from Tuesday was far less inspiring. He said the club plans to stick with the current starting rotation, meaning Mike Minor is going to continue to start, and Kris Medlen will remain stuck in the bullpen. Mark Bowman quoted Fredi saying, “You’re going to go through some growing pains. You’ve got to stay patient with these young pitchers and keep going.” Have we not been patient enough with Minor? Sure, he’s pitched a few good games (a couple great games even), but most of his starts have been disasters. More often than not, when Minor takes this hill, he doesn’t give the Braves a chance to win the game.

I’m all for developing young players through in-game experience, but at some point Fredi and the front office have to recognize that Minor is doing significant damage to the team during a season in which we have a good chance of being division champs. In 14 games, Minor’s given up 18 homeruns. His ERA is 6.14. It doesn’t help that he always seems to get matched up against the likes of Strasburg and Sabathia. What I want to know is how many more chances does he have? How many more bad starts can Minor have and still remain a part of the rotation?

I want to see Minor succeed. I hope that he realizes his back is against the wall, that he approaches his next start (which, again, is against Strasburg) with determination and focus. However, if we lose again because of a poor performance from Minor, let it be a really terrible performance. Let him be wild and give up the big inning. Because the last thing we need is a little ray of hope for Fredi to cling to. Maybe if Fredi has to pull Minor in the fourth inning or sooner, he’ll realize that the cons of the growing pains are outweighing the benefits.



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