8 Braves Who Must Step Up in Brandon Beachy's Absence

Daniel Kock@@dannykockContributor IIIJune 29, 2012

8 Braves Who Must Step Up in Brandon Beachy's Absence

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    The Atlanta Braves received disturbing news upon hearing Brandon Beachy would need season-ending Tommy John surgery.

    Beachy evolved as the ace of the staff the first few months of the season and was arguably the National League's best pitcher during that time.

    Beachy only had a 5-5 record but posted a National League best 2.00 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 81 innings.

    Without him in the rotation, it will be up to the rest of the team to step up in order to soften the blow of his injury.

    The Braves won't be able to plug one person in his spot to make up for his production.

    However, the combination of a few players stepping up their game can make up for his production, and here's a look at some of those players.

1. Tim Hudson

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    Tim Hudson has been the most reliable pitcher on the Braves' staff for the last seven years when healthy, and he's going to have to be that again in 2012.

    Beachy filled the role of the staff ace early in the year while Hudson posted a solid 3.58 ERA.

    Hudson now has to take over as the ace of the staff as the lone veteran of the bunch.

    Hudson got off to a good start on Tuesday against the Diamondbacks as he went eight innings only allowing one run on seven hits.

    Not only did Hudson give the Braves a great chance to win, but he also saved the bullpen.

    It's going to be vital for Hudson to remain a consistent starter for the Braves with a bunch of young guys in the rotation. They are going to go through ups and downs, but the Braves can't afford for Hudson to suffer from those.

2. Jair Jurrjens

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    Which Jair Jurrjens is going to show up for the remainder of the 2012 season?

    Will it be the 2011 All-Star Jurrjens or the guy that struggled to pitch five innings a start in 2012?

    Jurrjens got the call-up to the majors once Beachy went down, despite posting a mediocre ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett.

    Jurrjens doesn't have to lead the majors in ERA like he did the first half of 2011. However, he does have to consistently pitch six or more innings while giving his offense a chance to win.

    Braves' fans should feel encouraged with his first start against the Red Sox where he gave up just one run in nearly eight innings.

    He only managed to strikeout four hitters in that start but had good downward movement on his sinker and kept hitters off balance with his changeup.

    That will be the key for him moving forward. If he can locate his pitches and have good movement than he will be able to fill a hole in the rotation.

3. Brian McCann

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    Brian McCann has been a steady hitter for the Braves since he got called up to the major league level in 2005.

    McCann has been battling injuries throughout 2012 and has struggled to find consistency in the batter's box.

    Manager Fredi Gonzalez keeps showing faith in McCann in putting him in the three or four spot in the order every night.

    McCann needs to reward his manager's confidence by producing runs. McCann is hitting just .239 with nine home runs and 34 RBI.

    The offense will need to start picking up the pace now that the ace of the staff is out for the season. McCann is one player in the middle of the order who needs to improve on the production he's provided so far in 2012.

4. Dan Uggla

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    The Braves lineup is much more potent when Dan Uggla is swinging a hot bat.

    Currently, Uggla is in a slump that has seen his average drop from .276 to .240 in the last three weeks.

    Uggla is a traditional power hitter, so he's going to go through his ups and downs. However, it should be realistic for Uggla to keep his average above .250 while maintaining his power.

    The lack of production out of the middle of the order has been troubling at times for the Braves this season.

    Lately, Uggla has not been providing much to the offense, and the Braves need him to provide protection in the lineup.

    Without Beachy, the Braves will rely on Uggla to hit the three-run home run to give the offense a much needed boost.

5. Freddie Freeman

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    When Freddie Freeman's at his best he's spraying the ball to all parts of the field. That allows Freeman to hit for both power and average.

    Freeman's had some bizarre injuries to deal with this season, which is part of the reason he hasn't gotten into a rhythm yet.

    Freeman is hitting a respectable .254 with nine home runs and 43 RBI but is not the type of production he or the Braves expect from him.

    The Braves offense suffers from droughts at an alarming rate and leads to the Braves losing streaks.

    Freeman's use of all fields makes him a reliable hitter, who should not endure the long slumps.

    If Freeman can stay away from the injury bug in the coming weeks, he will make a big impact in the middle of the order.

    That is something the Braves will desperately need when the offense goes through a cold streak. Especially now that they won't have Beachy on the hill to bail them out.

6. Jonny Venters

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    Jonny Venters pitched lights out for the Braves in 2011 and was one of the most valuable players on the team.

    Venters has struggled all season to find that 2011 form and has been demoted to a specialist role rather than the setup man for closer Craig Kimbrel.

    It's head-scratching that a player with a 95 mph sinker and a plus slider could post a 4.03 ERA and give up five home runs already. He had given up just three in the past two years.

    Fredi Gonzalez is trying to be more cautious with his bullpen this year, but without Beachy he will need to go the pen more frequently.

    That's where it will be important for Venters to regain his 2011 form and give Gonzalez three reliable options in the closing innings.

7. Kris Medlen

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    The Braves are stringing along Kris Medlen, and it's not fair to him at all. Most look at him as a starting pitcher, but the Braves feel that for this team he is more valuable out of the bullpen.

    That's up for debate, but he needs to step up now that he's in a middle relief role.

    The Braves lack right-handers out of the bullpen with the injuries to Arodys Vizcaino and Peter Moylan.

    As mentioned in the previous slide, Gonzalez is going to have to go to his bullpen more frequently without Beachy. However, he wants to avoid tiring out the big three like 2012. That is how Medlen can contribute the most in his current role.

    Medlen has been OK so far out of the pen with a 3.38 ERA. His main struggle has been getting out of jams when he comes in with runners on base.

    If he cleans that up, he can be a major contributor to the Braves rotation.

8. Jason Heyward

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    The Braves are a different team when Jason Heyward is hot. They are 11-3 this season when Heyward has a multi-hit game.

    Heyward is a class five-tool player that has the rare combination of power and speed. He's the best baserunner on the team, so it's imperative for him to reach base.

    He's always been a patient hitter at the plate, but recently he's hitting for both power and average.

    Gonzalez can play with the batting order with a hot-hitting Heyward. He can move Prado to the No. 2 or 3 hole and put Heyward in the other spot.

    That gives the Braves an impressive combination of speed, power and average in their first three spots in the batting order.

    Heyward looks ready to take the next step in putting all his talent together to become a different player. The Braves will be in good shape offensively heading into a playoff race if Heyward is hot.