Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After Grilli, is it time for Arodys Vizcaino as Braves closer?


Will this long-heralded hurler seize the moment? (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

Given that the Atlanta Braves were apparently open to trading Jason Grilli before he tore his Achilles, there seems no way they'll make a major or even a minor move to replace him. They might try Jim Johnson as closer: He has done it before, though not very well lately. But my guess -- and it's just a guess -- is that we're finally get to see what the fuss about Arodys Vizacaino has been all about.

If it seems Vizcaino has been around forever, it's because he kind of has. The Braves acquired him from the Yankees on Dec. 22, 2009, in the much-discussed salary dump of Javier Vazquez, who'd finished fourth in the 2009 National League Cy Young voting. The Braves also landed Melky Cabrera in the deal --  he lasted a forgettable season and was gone -- and also Mike Dunn, who in November 2010 was sent to the Marlins, along with Omar Infante, for Dan Uggla.

To their credit, the Braves sold high: Vazquez failed as a Yankee and hasn't worked in the majors since 2011. The hidden gem in that transaction was supposed to be Vizcaino, who was 19 and rated the second-best pitcher in the Yankees' farm system. Soon Vizcaino would become one of the Braves' four best pitching prospects, alongside Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado.

Vizcaino hurt his arm in March 2012 and required -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- Tommy John surgery. On July 30, the Braves traded him (even as he was rehabbing) to the Cubs in the Paul Maholm/Reed Johnson deadline deal. He had another procedure in 2013 to remove bone chips from his elbow and didn't work a professional inning for two seasons.

Vizcaino returned to the majors -- he'd had a minor role in the Braves' Epic Collapse of September 2011 -- with the Cubs last September, working five games. In November he returned to the Braves in the Tommy La Stella trade. He wasn't effective in spring training and was optioned to Gwinnett. Then he was suspended 80 games after testing positive for PEDs.

Upon reinstatement, Vizcaino made eight minor-league appearances: In nine innings, he yielded 10 hits and compiled an ERA of 5.00; he also struck out 14. He was summoned to the majors last week and has made four appearances. He hasn't been touched for a run.

It's not as if there are a slew of closer candidates post-Grilli. Johnson is 32 and is working for his fourth team since 2012. The rookie Mike Foltynewicz was recalled from Gwinnett with the idea of giving him relief work. There's a chance his future could be as a closer, but the Braves haven't been grooming him that way. All his Class AAA appearances this season were starts.

That leaves Vizcaino, who has been seen as a reliever for years. (His last start at any level came in 2011 for the Mississippi Braves.) This losing streak has dropped the Braves four games below .500 and six games behind the Nationals, so the notion of an improbable pennant race has again cooled. This would seem a prime moment for experimentation, and such opportunities can wind up crowning new closers. And Arodys Vizcaino, for all his travels, is only 24.


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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.