Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel has been consistent, but the Braves bullpen has had some growing pains so far this season. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — On Wednesday night, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez brought in closer Craig Kimbrel with two runners on in the ninth inning. On Thursday night, he pulled veteran left-hander Luis Avilan in favor of the rookie right-hander Gus Schlosser to face a right-hander with the go-ahead run at third base.
Kimbrel worked his way out of the jam. Schlosser did not. And the Braves bullpen is showing some growing pains as it breaks in two new rookies and awaits the return of Jonny Venters from Tommy John surgery.
Gonzalez acknowledged only 10 games into the season he’s still trying to find a comfort zone with how to use the new pieces in his bullpen.
The Braves’ 4.09 relief ERA entering the weekend series against the Nationals is ranked eighth in the National League. The Braves led the majors last season with a 2.46 bullpen ERA. The Braves’ bullpen has been this team’s strength in recent years, led by arguably the best closer in baseball now in Kimbrel.
“I’ve got to kind of tinker with it until we get comfortable,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve got three rookies in the bullpen, or we did. We’ve got a couple of pieces that we’ve got to get them working the right way.”
Schlosser has a 7.20 ERA through his first five games, but he’s also shown Gonzalez signs of what he can do, like the five outs he recorded facing four batters in his debut in Milwaukee and his strikeout of Ryan Zimmerman in 2/3 innings of quality work Sunday in Washington.
Schlosser was a starter coming up through the minor leagues and is still adjusting to the routine of a reliever. Left-hander Ian Thomas, also a rookie, had a 3.38 ERA through his first four games in the major leagues.
“You’ve got to keep testing them in those situations,” Gonzalez said. “You’ve got to (experience it). The stuff you do in spring training, it’s a little different when you’ve got three decks and 40,000 people in the stands. But that’s up to Roger (McDowell) and myself, more myself, to figure that out, where we can use guys.”
Notable: When Luis Avilan took the loss Thursday night against the Mets, it was the first loss of his career in his 111th appearance. According to Elias Sports Bureau, only four other pitchers since 1900 have appeared in as many games before taking their first loss: Clay Rapada (152), Mike Gallo (135) and Manny Delcarmen (115) and Josh Roenicke (111).
Of being charged with his first loss, Avilan shrugged and said: “I’m a relief pitcher so I don’t really mind the wins or losses. I just really care about how many left-handers I get out or how many holds I can get.”