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Braves Report: Have The Braves Found Relief?

Everyone knows the riddle about what an April forecast brings to the vegetation for May.

As far as the Atlanta Braves are concerned, they hope all the rainy days during the first full month of the baseball season results in a fresh bullpen.

Oddly enough, as the calendar transitioned from April to May, something seemed to have blossomed in the Braves’ bullpen.

On the last Braves Report we noted how Atlanta was giving up an MLB-worst .73 runs per ninth inning. This documentation was on the heels of closer A.J. Minter’s struggles. On April 27, the reliever gave up four runs in the ninth while blowing a 5-4 lead against the Colorado Rockies. Since then, the Braves have gone 6-3. They are now 18th in the majors in opponent runs per ninth inning, while posting a third-best mark (.31) in the eighth inning.

What has helped Atlanta the most during that stretch is being able to preserve leads, something that became the club’s Achilles Heel during the opening month of the season. Since Minter’s meltdown against the Rockies,  the Braves’ bullpen has protected the lead in four games, while being credited with none of their three losses.

Once Touki Toussaint saw a Braves’ lead against the Miami Marlins last week, neither he or the rest of the bullpen relinquished the margin.

If you count Toussaint’s credited decision as a start in the Jose Urena mission down in Miami, Atlanta has only given up one run in those situations. They have given up two if you count Touki’s appearance as relief. He pitched four innings, while surrendering just one run and striking out six.

Either way, the Braves’ makeshift bullpen has been laser-sharp of late.

Along with the bullpen improving, some bold moves may be taking shape.

Reliever Chad Sobotka was placed on the 10-day IL on April 29 (Grant Dayton recalled.) Jesse Biddle was designated for a rehab assignment on Saturday (Toussaint optioned.) Meanwhile, Sean Newcomb was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett and placed in the pen.

On Monday night, Newcomb contributed to an efficient performance by the relief squad against a dangerous Los Angeles Dodgers’ lineup. He logged 2 SO and 0 BB in 2 IP, while surrendering just one hit. Despite losing 5-3, the Atlanta relievers didn’t concede a run in 3.2 innings.

Maybe the solution is addition by subtraction for the Braves’ pitching dilemna. With a reliable offense that can put up nearly double-digit runs on a given night, Atlanta isn’t looking for elite support.

Signing free agent Craig Kimbrel isn’t the only option to bolster the rotation in the pen despite what some think. While the former Brave would certainly fill the need for a reliable closer, stability for long relief is just as important to fix.

Perhaps the answer(s) to solving that riddle can be found in their own stable. Whether it’s journeymen like Josh Tomlin or Dayton, or young arms like Jacob Webb and Wes Parsons, the Braves need reliability in their pitching arsenal before making the leap for one outstanding player.

Less pitches and abbreviated innings may be just what the doctor ordered for Newcomb and Toussaint. If those two continue to make efficient relief appearances, Atlanta suddenly has a transformed, yet formidable relief system.

For whatever rhyme or reason, a more dependable bullpen seems to be forming. If Atlanta reaches full bloom in that department, they may reap the rewards of surviving spring’s late frost. And who knows, maybe then they might have enough appeal to submit the Queen Bee out there buzzing all alone.



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