With the non-tender deadline tonight the Braves have avoided arbitration with reliever Jonny Venters and utility infielder Ramiro Pena by signing them to one-year deals.
Venters was once a dominant setup man for closer Craig Kimbrel, but wore down under extremely heavy usage and missed all of this year following Tommy John elbow surgery. He’ll get $1.625 million for 2014, which is exactly what Venters made in 2013.
Pena signed with the Braves last offseason after coming up with the Yankees and missed the final three months following shoulder surgery. He’s a career .244 hitter with a .606 OPS and is strictly a bench player.
Craig Kimbrel hadn’t pitched two innings in a game since 2011, and the Braves weren’t about to have him try to get six outs now. It’s a decision they’ll think about all winter after Juan Uribe hit a go-ahead two-run homer off David Carpenter, leading the Dodgers past the Braves and into the NLCS on Monday.
The easy narrative is that the Dodgers asked their stud to do something he’s never done before and the Braves wouldn’t. And the Dodgers won and the Braves didn’t.
Of course, that’s oversimplifying things. And the Dodgers’ decision could have backfired in a big way, even though Clayton Kershaw was as good as they possibly could have hoped for while pitching on three days’ rest. He allowed just two unearned runs in six innings, but he did leave with the game tied. He also left earlier than he might have otherwise, and the Braves were able to capitalize and take a 3-2 lead in the seventh against Ronald Belisario.
But then the eighth inning came. And it’s worth noting that the Braves are on their fourth setup man of the season after Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty succumbed to season-ending injuries and Jordan Walden’s shoulder problems left him a little shaky. Carpenter’s been great, but he’s no Kimbrel and he did give up a two-run homer to Hanley Ramirez in Game 2. The Braves had Kimbrel warming up behind Carpenter in the eighth, but decided not to bring him in even after Yasiel Puig’s leadoff double. Uribe, after missing a sac bunt attempt, followed with the homer that made it a 4-3 game.
The thing is the both the Braves and Dodgers knew situations like this might arise. The Dodgers knew how the NLDS schedules were laid out. Both teams had their respective divisions wrapped up in September. Both could have experimented. The Braves could have tried Kimbrel in a two-inning save. The Dodgers could have used Kershaw on three days’ rest and then given him extra rest afterwards. It not only would have provided the teams with data, but it would have given Kimbrel and Kershaw both a better idea how to approach the situations in the bigger games. But major league teams are rarely that proactive.
Now the Braves are headed home in early October again. If you count last year’s one-game wild card, this makes eight straight postseason series lost by the team dating back to 2001. In this case, the better team won. Still, being so close to have a decisive Game 5 back in Atlanta will have the team thinking “what if?” all offseason long.
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez put his team up 5-1 with a seventh-inning grand slam against Giants reliever George Kontos. The slam was Rodriguez’s 24th of his career, overtaking Yankees great Lou Gehrig’s Major League record. David Robertson and Mariano Rivera teamed up to keep the Giants off the board in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
Watch the record-setting slam:
The slam was also Rodriguez’s 654th career home run, leaving him six shy of Willie Mays in fourth place on the all-time leaderboard. Rodriguez’s previous grand slam, which tied Gehrig’s mark, came on June 12 last year against Braves reliever Jonny Venters.
Including tonight’s action, Rodriguez now has a .261/.364/.458 line, certainly much better than many expected given his age, health, and off-the-field drama.
Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports that the Braves are interested in Cubs’ reliever Kevin Gregg:
The Braves are among the many teams expected to show interest in Cubs closer Kevin Gregg, who owns a 1.11 ERA in 25 appearances. Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez utilized Gregg as his closer while they were together with the Marlins in 2007 and ’08.
File this under the “you can never have enough bullpen arms” I suppose. Because even though Atlanta has lost two good relievers in Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters, the pen has been pretty darn solid thanks to contributions from Jordan Walden and Luis Avilan.
Or maybe they just don’t want the Nationals to get Gregg. Or maybe they just have a nice organizational fondness for Tommy Gregg and want that name back in a jersey again. I liked Tommy Gregg more than I should have. He was fun.
After Jonny Venters underwent Tommy John surgery last week, another Braves’ reliever is headed for the same fate.
According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, left-hander Eric O’Flaherty will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery tomorrow. It doesn’t come as a big surprise, as he was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow over the weekend. He’ll figures to be sidelined through the early part of the 2014 season.
While the Braves still have closer Craig Kimbrel, there’s suddenly a major void in the team’s bullpen. Venters and O’Flaherty have combined for a 1.98 ERA over 447 appearances since the start of 2010.