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Mark Bradley

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

Further indication that Mike Minor is a major man among Braves


Eric Stults yielded four runs in five innings Wednesday. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Atlanta Braves need Mike Minor. Nobody's sure when/if he'll be able to pitch, and the team's clear preference is to not throw a young guy like Mike Foltynewicz into the rotation just yet. That leaves the fourth and fifth starter's jobs to Eric Stults, signed in February, and Trevor Cahill, imported from Arizona two weeks ago, and they might not be good enough.

Granted, it's early yet. Stults has made two starts, Cahill one. The Braves are 1-2 in those games, and in the victory Stults failed to hold a 3-0 lead. The lesson herein: Not every retread is Aaron Harang.

The Braves signed Harang last spring after he was cut by Cleveland, and he was mostly terrific, going 12-12 with a 3.57 ERA on a team that couldn't score. But Harang was allowed to become a free agent and signed with Philadelphia, and the Braves are again in need of cheap rotational help. Because without Minor, the rotation turns only to three.

So long as Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller is the starting pitcher, the Braves have a fighting chance. But the off-days -- counting Thursday, the Braves will have had two in the season's first 11 days -- won't be as frequent once the season really gets going, and a rotation -- like a chain -- is only as strong as its weakest link.

In years past, that's where the Braves beat people. Their Nos. 4 and 5 starters would overmatch everyone else's Nos. 4 and 5. (Some years Steve Avery and Kevin Millwood were the fourth starters; even John Smoltz once was.) Last year's rotation -- Teheran, Ervin Santana, Harang, Wood and Minor, with doses of Gavin Floyd and David Hale --was why the team held up as long as it did. The Braves led the majors with 110 quality starts but, owing to the absence of offense, won only 79 games.

For all the emphasis on making contact and manufacturing runs, this offense isn't apt to be anything special. (Sure enough, the Braves have averaged 2.5 runs over the past four games, three of them losses.) We saw Wednesday what happens when the starting pitcher (Stults, in this case) wobbles and the offense manages three hits (two of them homers) -- the Braves lost 6-2 to the Marlins and journeyman Dan Haren.

Nobody among Braves knows what's what with Minor's shoulder, and team president John Hart darkly suggested that exploratory surgery might be an option if more rest and rehab doesn't work. The Braves spent the offseason acquiring young pitchers with the thought they'd be brought along slowly, but if Stults and Cahill can't cut it and Minor can't get healthy, what else is there?

From myajc: Reality intrudes on the Braves' flying start.


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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.