John Smoltz To Bullpen, The Braves Still Have a Shot If...

nick oldCorrespondent IMay 5, 2008

John Smoltz said very definitely recently that he would be returning not to the rotation, but to the bullpen when be recovers from his stinit on the disabled list. Hopefully, he will need only the 15 days set aside for his DL stay to recover from a consistently inflamed shoulder as it is not an injury that will go silently into the night, so-to-speak.

Smoltz, assuming he returns to form when he returns from the DL, will give the braves the dominant closer they have lacked. The rotation will go to Hudson, Glavine, Jurrjens, and blank, blank.  As I've mentioned previously, Jo-Jo Reyes, Jeff Bennett, Jorge Campillo, Buddy Carlisle, and Chuck James are these candidates. That's five candidates to fill two spots-- not terrible odds assuming that at least two of these could work out in the rotation's back side. Then again, it's very possible that none of them work out. However, I can finally say the Reyes impressed me. In the last two years, I've cringed seeing him on the mound in the first inning. I know that I may as well cancel anything I have planned for the next five hours, because he's going to throw so many pitches by the fifth inning that at least three hours have elapsed. More walks than strikeouts will do this. But on to my point: Reyes finally showed what his potential looks like when realized. In AAA Richmond, he had a 1.17 ERA with 25 strikeouts to eight walks. Far better than the numbers he's shown the last few years, and it appears that he didn't let the promotion to the Majors change his approach. He dominated the Reds in his start. Reyes was locating his fastball, using his slider, throwing first pitch strikes; everything you want in a starter. Greater still is that he hadn't lost any velocity on his fastball. Throwing 93 MPH from the left side. Very impressive showing from Reyes. I feel he deserves this credit because I usually hate on him pretty hard. But I only report what we all see, I most certainly think that I treated him fairly in my articles. I cited fact and backed it up with stats. And I am treating him just as fairly here, as he deserves much credit for a magnificent outing against the Reds a few nights ago (he even pitched his way out of trouble). Also, give Brian McCann kudos for calling a good game and keeping Reyes in it. 

On to the bullpen: If Smoltz returns to form the 9378437 set-up men the Braves have will be put back where they rightfully belong. The team entered the season with Rafael Soriano as the closer (a legitimate idea) and Peter Moylan as the primary set-up man until Gonzalez returned to the bullpen to share the duty with him. As a lefty, Gonzalez would be used alongside Moylan, a righty, during the 7th and 8th innings, depending on the handedness of the lineups during those innings. You know, lefties versus lefties, righties versus righties. Gonzalez had the most closing experience and is expected back soon. But he still isn't with the team yet, and Soriano went down. Then Moylan went down (and looks like he may be down for the year as he just got moved to the 60-day DL. Now we're in trouble. The young Manny Acosta got forced into the role. We're just crossing our fingers daily that the man who pitches the ninth never has to see the potential tying run. There are no other options really. Blaine Boyer throws hard, but throws with minimal movement on his fastball. Royce Ring and Will Ohman are middle-relief lefty specialists. Honestly, the Braves are going to have to bite the bullet until one of the set-up men can return. If Atlanta can keep the bats warm for a few weeks, they may survive by playing some .500 baseball. If they can do that, hopefully Smoltz, Soriano, and Mike Gonzalez will all be healthy and taking the 7th-9th innings into their very capable hands. This would alleviate the pressure on their lesser talented or younger bullpen mates. Thus, we're back to square one: three capable late-innings studs that compliment a solid front four in the rotation (taking for granted that Reyes proves that he is ready to be a consistent Big Leaguer). Further mirroring the preseason outlook is that the rotation will still feature two capable lefties then (remembering that Mike Hampton and/or Chuck James was supposed to be the solid 4th man).

Fans and front office alike can forget about Mike Hampton coming back. He is straining his boob muscles and pulling muscles in his feet and tearing chin ligaments when he makes breakfast. The guy's so fragile, he can make bull in a china shop seem like a safe bet. We all want him back, but to hold your breath would be irresponsible. If he does make the long-awaited comeback, he will receive due diligence in fair treatment. Besides, if he does come back, it would only be icing on the cake to a season that still can be salvaged into something respectable, if not remarkable.