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MLB NOTEBOOK: With O’Flaherty done, Braves’ relievers must step up

Eric O'Flaherty admitted Sunday that his elbow had been bothering him off and on since last September.

Eric O'Flaherty admitted Sunday that his elbow had been bothering him off and on since last September.

ATLANTA — A strength going into the season, the Atlanta bullpen is now very much a potential concern.

Eric O’Flaherty, diagnosed with an ulnar collateral ligament tear, is likely headed to Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery after the Braves lost fellow left-hander Jonny Venters for the same reason.

He admitted Sunday that his elbow had been bothering him off and on since last September. The reliever visited Dr. James Andrews on Monday after an MRI revealed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament.

“I’m trying to be optimistic, but they’re making surgery appointments already. It’s not looking too good,” said O’Flaherty, who gave up an eighth-inning homer to the Dodgers on Saturday and was later placed on the disabled list. The 28-year-old has a 1.99 ERA in 295 appearances since joining the Braves in 2009 and his 0.98 ERA in 2011 made him the first major league pitcher with a sub-1.00 ERA in at least 70 appearances.

Dr. Andrews performed Tommy John surgery on Venters last Thursday. Losing O’Flaherty is a major blow to the Braves.

“It was tough finding out the news about Jonny after everything he’s done here, and same thing for me,” O’Flaherty said. “I was sick pretty much all day thinking about it, but it’s part of the game.”

To take O’Flaherty’s place in the bullpen, the Braves promoted 25-year-old right-hander Cory Rasmus from Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday. He did not pitch Saturday or Sunday.

Rasmus, the younger brother of Toronto outfielder Cody Rasmus, had a 0.93 ERA and was seven-for-seven in save opportunities over 19 appearances with Gwinnett. But he has no major league experience and the Braves, 5-2 winners over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, no longer have a bridge from their starters to closer Craig Kimbrel.

In addition to the loss of O’Flaherty and Venters, the Braves are also temporarily without Jordan Walden. The right-hander was placed on the disabled list Friday, retroaction to May 12, because of shoulder inflammation.

The loss of Venters and O’Flaherty leaves Luis Avilan as the Braves’ only left-hander in the bullpen. He will now have to assume a larger role, as will right-handers Cory Gearrin and Anthony Varvaro.

Tigers’ Cabrera on fire already

DETROIT — It’s called respect.

After watching Miguel Cabrera hit a pair of home runs worth four runs earlier Sunday, Texas manager Ron Washington elected to walked the defending Triple Crown winner intentionally in the sixth inning — with two outs and runners on first and second.

Texas was going to pitch around Cabrera — work off the strike zone and hope he bit on a bad pitch — but after reaching a 2-1 count, the Rangers decided risking a mistake wasn’t worth it as hot as the Detroit third baseman was in the series.

Cabrera entered Sunday’s game 5-for-12 with several scalded outs, two doubles and an RBI.

He grounded a single to left his first time up Sunday, then hit a three-run blast to right-center his second trip to the plate and smashed a solo shot to dead center in at-bat No. 3. The third home run came in the eighth with nobody on, his 11th of the season.

The Rangers could have walked Cabrera before his three-run home run but elected not to load the bases with nobody out.

Not walking him hurt, and walking him hurt when Prince Fielder ripped a three-run double to right center following the intentional pass in the sixth. However, it wasn’t enough for the Tigers, who lost 11-8.

Why would any team pitch to Cabrera when he can do damage?

This season Cabrera has a .509 batting average with runners in scoring position. (It can be argued a man on first is in scoring position when Cabrera comes to bat, but the traditional definition says scoring position is second or third base). He is 28-for-55 in those situations with six home runs and 40 RBI, plus 10 walks.

Cabrera has struck out just three times this year with a runner in scoring position, twice swinging.

The 30-year-old has improved in each of the last three seasons over the .322 he hit with runners in scoring position in 2010. Cabrera upped that average to .288 in 2011 and .356 last year.

Good reason to give him respect.

MLB’s top prospect Profar finally called up by Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jurickson Profar, the heralded Rangers prospect, is back.

And this time he won’t be sitting around.

Texas manager Ron Washington said Sunday that he would use the just-recalled infielder regularly while second baseman Ian Kinsler is sidelined. Kinsler was placed on the disabled list Sunday with a strained right intercostal muscle after missing the previous two games. Kinsler tried to swing Sunday, but he still had significant soreness.

If the Rangers do use Profar regularly, it will be a big change from 2012 when Profar spent most of his September call-up watching from the bench. The 20-year-old, who arrived in Arlington on Sunday afternoon, made his 2013 debut against Oakland on Monday.

After Profar was called up last September, he started just five games as the Rangers started to fade. Washington resisted the request of the front office, which suggested Profar play more. This time, the situation is different.

“He will play, but I’m not going to stop playing Garcia,” said Washington, who gave the 22-year-old Garcia his seventh start in the club’s first 44 games Sunday. “I can spell Elvis (Andrus) a little with these two kids.”

Profar was hitting .278 (40-for-144) with 27 runs, four home runs, 19 RBI and 21 walks in 37 games for Triple-A Round Rock. In his last game at Triple-A on Saturday night vs. Colorado Springs, he went 3-for-4 with his first career multi-homer game, scoring three runs and driving in three. Profar had hit safely in eight straight for Round Rock at .424 (14-for-33) with six runs, two doubles, three homers, and eight RBIs in that span.

Mets nearly fed up with Davis

NEW YORK — Time is running out for Ike Davis to contribute.

The Mets tried to extend Davis a long rope of opportunity, consistently hitting him cleanup against right-handed pitching all last week. But the first baseman responded by going 0-for-24 during one particularly troubling stretch, finally snapping that with a single Friday against the Cubs.

He followed that up with an 0-for-4 outing Saturday and he then sat out Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Cubs.

His slump has some wondering if a stint in the minors would do him good, though the Mets insist they’re not considering that just yet.

“Issues that we’re facing with Ike are issues that we’ve faced before,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “Obviously, we’re not just sitting around watching this without trying to help him and figure out what’s in his best interest. But there’s no ultimatum, there’s no deadline, there’s no anything that we’ve established.”

Alderson was referring to the massive first-half slump that Davis endured last season, nearly earning him a demotion to the minors in May. But the Mets opted against it, then watched Davis mash 20 homers after the All-Star break.

Big Papi makes Twins pay — again, and again, and again

BOSTON — Every chance he gets, David Ortiz reminds the Minnesota Twins about the one that got away.

Ortiz signed with the Red Sox after the 2002 season, when the Twins declined to tender him a contract. And since then, he has tormented his former team.

Including a two-homer game Saturday night in the Red Sox’s 12-5 rout, Ortiz is 67-for-203 (.330) with 15 homers and 43 RBI in 54 games against Minnesota. He was 2-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored in Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Twins.

No wonder Twins general manager Terry Ryan lists discarding Ortiz as his biggest blunder.

“The longer I’m in a position of making decisions, the more mistakes I’m going to make,” Ryan said. “It’s to Boston’s benefit the mistake that I made. David’s gone out and done something with it, and he keeps doing something with it. So, I tip my hat.”

At this point, what more can the Twins do? They can’t even sign him in the offseason, not after the Red Sox locked him up to a two-year, $26 million contract last November.

“Hey, don’t give the Twins any ideas,” Ortiz said.

Asked if he takes particular pleasure in pummeling the Twins, Ortiz said, “Used to. Not anymore. I just go about my business.”

“You guys see me try to go for the moon every time I got to hit anywhere,” Ortiz added. “It’s nothing new.”