Brandon McCarthy is a pitcher with 12 years of big-league experience, proven leadership capabilities and a dry sense of humor well-suited for clubhouse banter or for the more irreverent types among his quarter-million Twitter followers.
None of which will matter to the Braves nor their fans if McCarthy doesn’t stay healthy and make as many starts as general manager Alex Anthopoulos thinks he can after getting the 34-year-old right-hander in a December trade with the Dodgers.
Anthopoulos announced immediately after the deal that McCarthy would be in the starting rotation provided he stayed healthy. The pitcher fully understands and wants to be a relied-upon veteran leader for his new team.
“That’s certainly my goal going into every season, is to make every start every five days, and to get back to being that guy that I can do that more consistently than I’ve done in the past,” McCarthy said. “That starts with just getting in the weight room now, getting back to work, making sure I’m doing things right and then letting the season play out from there.
“If I’m on the training table today, nobody’s going to come talk to you. Nobody cares how long you’ve been around; you have to be out there, you have to be with them, you have to be pitching. They have to know that you’re going through the same things that they’re going through. Being available, being healthy is a big part of it, and I don’t have enough of a person to come out the other way, where you can just lead through any situation.
“I’ve got to be functional, I’ve got to be active.”
The Braves plan to have returning pitchers Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz joined by McCarthy in the rotation, with the two remaining spots to be contested by candidates led by young left-handers Luiz Gohara, Max Fried and Sean Newcomb.
McCarthy was 6-4 with a 3.98 ERA in 19 games (16 starts) last season for the Dodgers, missing half the season for a dislocated non-throwing shoulder, knee tendinitis and a recurring finger blister, but returning late with his 94-mph fastball intact and a new slider he’s still working to hone. He was on the Dodgers’ World Series roster.
“Work ethic is outstanding,” Anthopoulos said. “Really bright. Quick wit; you see him on his tweets, which is pretty entertaining. But I’m really glad to have him, when he’s on the hill he’s really good. In L.A., there’s just so many talented guys, that rotation, at times it was tough to stick for guys that are really good. Guys like (Kenta) Maeda getting put in the bullpen; Brandon was in and out. Just had a lot of guys there.
“I kind of use the example, and they’re not the same guy at all, but when you look at a guy like A.J. Burnett going from the Yankees to the Pirates and re-establishing himself on a young team. I think Brandon has the ability to do that here. I think the performance will take care of itself if he’s on the mound, and everything else he’s going to bring as well.”
McCarthy said he’s feeling good, fit and recovered from last year’s ills. The 6-foot-7 California native has worked just 155 2/3 total innings over the past three seasons after pitching a career-high 200 innings with the Yankees and Diamondbacks in 2014. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and missed most of 2016 while recovering.
He aims to return to form in his first season with his new team, to be a veteran they can build around.
“Yeah, I mean I would love to,” said McCarthy, who has a 63-72 record and 4.15 ERA in 240 games (182 starts) with six major league teams over a dozen seasons, the past three with the Dodgers. “There’s a sense of respect that comes with that. If I’m performing at that level, that they feel like you have something to give them it’d be great. But it’s not something I’m demanding from the outset.
“I just want to be enough of a professional and enough of a competitor that they see that I might have something to offer them.”
It’s a different feel around the Braves, who’ve been through three seasons with at least 90 losses, than it was with the Dodgers, who’ve been baseball biggest spenders recently and operating in World Series-or-bust mode.
But McCarthy said his transition is made easier by having Anthopoulos, who was a Dodgers vice president the past two seasons, and Alex Tamin, who was hired away from the Dodgers by Anthopoulos to serve as director of major league operations. He also has a couple of his Dodgers teammates, pitcher Scott Kazmir and utility man Charlie Culberson, who came to the Braves in the same December trade that brought McCarthy.
“(Tamen) has a lot of interactions with the players, and so I’ve gotten to know him the past couple of years,” he said. “So there’s some familiarity, it’s not like where you’re coming over completely blank and nobody knows what you’ve done. There will be some sounding boards that I can go to where it’s, hey, does this look like anything like what we had before? Better, worse?
“I threw to (Braves catcher Kurt) Suzuki a couple of years in Oakland and loved him to death, so he’s got familiarity. There’s enough people here where it’s not like I’m on my island. I’ve got a little group here I can speak with.”