Braves relief pitcher Anthony Varvaro had a 9.82 ERA in 10 spring training outings, but the right-hander has a 2.08 ERA so far this season and has been one of Atlanta’s most reliable arms out of the bullpen. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — Braves reliever Anthony Varvaro has been known to get his fastball into the mid-90s, but when he touched 97 mph to strike out Chris Young Sunday in New York? That was a little bit above the norm.
Varvaro started out throwing 92, 93 mph to David Wright, the first hitter he faced in the 10th inning. But by Young, his third batter, his fastball was cooking. He threw him four straight fastballs, progressively harder, going 94, 95, 96 to 97 mph.
“Maybe pitching in New York where he’s from, maybe he got a little extra velocity,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez of the Staten Island native and former pitcher for St. Johns. “But I’ve seen him throw that.”
Gonzalez said he’s been impressed with Varvaro’s ability to throw strikes and get out some big-time hitters of late. Entering Tuesday, Varvaro had a 2.08 ERA, second in the Braves bullpen only to the rookie Ian Thomas (1.69).
This is after Varvaro had a 9.82 ERA in 10 spring training outings. But Gonzalez has a theory on that one, too.
“He’s one of those guys, he’s always thinking he’s going to get released so spring training is not a good time of year for him,” Gonzalez said. “Every time I go by and say hi, he’s probably thinks ‘I’m going to get called into the office.’ He doesn’t get comfortable. So when he runs some of those spring training numbers out there, you say ‘We know what you are, we’re not going on numbers, just get your work in.’”
It’s looking like a wise choice.
STURDY WOOD: Because of Alex Wood’s quirky delivery, the Braves thought he might be most effective in short doses coming out of the bullpen.
The chances of the left-hander ever getting that role, though, seem slim to none now.
Wood, who started Tuesday’s late game against Miami, has been just too good as a starter, no matter what the Braves’ eventual needs are.
The 23-year-old former University of Georgia standout took a 1.67 ERA into Tuesday’s game and got at least seven innings in three of his previous four outings.
“I’m not surprised with Woody,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I’d seen what he was capable of as a starter.”
Wood should have a better record than 2-2. He was a hard-luck 1-0 loser at Philadelphia last Thursday, getting an eight-inning complete game.
The second-round draft choice in 2012 has allowed as many as two runs in just one of his starts and has 24 strikeouts compared with seven walks.
Wood was called up to the majors last May 30 after less than a full year in the minors and went 3-3 with a 3.13 ERA. He made 11 starts among his 31 appearances and had 77 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings.
Wood’s experience does show at the plate, though. He failed to get down a sacrifice bunt in the top of the eighth inning at Philadelphia, and that was as much a topic afterward as the curveball he hung to Ben Revere for the decisive hit.
“Put aside that eighth, in which he could have done a better job both offensively and pitching, he did a terrific job,” Gonzalez said.
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY: Jose Fernandez made a point to apologize to the Braves last September when his antics and their reaction after he walked off a home run led to a benches-clearing confrontation in Miami. But the Braves didn’t to see a much different pitcher or personality when they faced him again late Tuesday night at Turner Field. And that’s OK.
Chris Johnson said the Braves are the ones who know better what to expect and won’t react in the same way.
“I think he knows why some guys were rubbed the wrong way,” Johnson said. “I think also there are some guys on the team who know how he is, so we know he’s not showing you up really. It’s just how he is. I think it works both ways. I think both teams know what we’re getting into, so there won’t be any issues. I just think that’s how he is, he has fun, and he’s really, really good. That’s the hard part that we’ll have to deal with because he’s probably going to deal.”
Fernandez features an upper 90s fastball and an electric breaking ball. He beat out fellow Cuba native Yasiel Puig for National League rookie of the year last year at age 21. He won 12 games for a 100-loss Marlins team and finished second in the NL to Clayton Kershaw with a 2.19 ERA. He allowed only 5.8 hits per nine innings, the lowest in the league since 1985.
Johnson was the first Braves player not named Brian McCann to react to Fernandez last Sept. 11, charging in from third base. Johnson and Fernandez had been jawing at each other earlier in the game during one of Johnson’s at-bats, and then when Fernandez trotted past Johnson on his home run off Mike Minor he spat on the ground in the general direction of third base. Fernandez apologized to Johnson after the game, whistling at him to get his attention and they talked on the field.