Brandon Beachy will have Tommy John surgery, so what will be the Braves' answer to fill that hole?
By ANDY JOHNSTONFS South
The Braves pounded five home runs in their victory over the Yankees on Wednesday, but they were hit harder by the news that Brandon Beachy will need Tommy John surgery.
Beachy and the organization were optimistic that surgery wouldn't be needed, but remained realistic in the fact that the ligament tear in his right elbow likely would have to be repaired.
Word came down late in the afternoon, after Beachy's appointment with Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedic surgeon. Thursday's surgery means Beachy likely will spend most of the next 12 months recovering, rehabbing and preparing for the rest of his career.
"It's a shame," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We're going to miss him."
The Braves will have to find a way to continue and compete without Beachy, who was their best pitcher through the first 2½ months this season.
Winning the NL East and making the playoffs just grew significantly tougher for the Braves.
Beachy's ERA didn't rise to 2.00 until his last start, when he was lifted after 3 2/3 innings with his sore right elbow, and he has one of the club's two complete-game shutouts.
It's been an amazing journey for Beachy, who went from college reliever to undrafted free agent to winning a spot in the Braves rotation in 2011 to becoming Atlanta’s most reliable starter in less than five years.
The Braves now have to replace Beachy's skill, stamina and competitive nature. They'll begin the auditions on Friday, when Jair Jurrjens returns from his trip to Triple-A Gwinnett to start against Boston.
Jurrjens' downfall has been more rapid than Beachy's ascent. Jurrjens was the best starter in the NL for the first three months of 2011, going 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA in the first half and blanked the AL for 1 2/3 innings in last year's All-Star Game.
But he was bombed in his first start after the break and struggled throughout the second half before being shut down with a right knee injury at the end of August.
Problems continued this season and Jurrjens was 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA when he was demoted after four starts. He was 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA in 10 starts for Gwinnett and said this week that his knee was still weak this spring despite his offseason rehab.
He insists he's ready. And the Braves are ready, if not forced, into giving him another shot.
"We felt he was the right guy to come back up," Braves assistant general manager Bruce Manno told the Associated Press on Monday. “He felt good, and I think he's improved. I know our guys here (with Gwinnett) are very happy with what they've seen. He's pitched some really good games here where they have seen marked improvement, and hopefully that can translate back to the major leagues."
The Braves will have two choices if Jurrjens bounces back. They can either leave him in the rotation or try to trade him and his $5.5 million salary.
Jurrjens has practically no trade value until he proves himself, and teams aren't clamoring to take on his contract, so the Braves need him to show he's ready to face major league hitters again.
If he's not, they can either call up top prospect Julio Teheran or trade for a veteran starter who they can slide into the rotation and eat up innings.
GM Frank Wren has been cautious to trade the organization's top young arms — Teheran, Randall Delgado or Arodys Vizcaino, who is out for the year after having Tommy John surgery in late March — and likely would be again.
Even if Wren were to trade a top prospect, the Braves probably would be reluctant to take on the salary of a top-flight starter like the Cubs' Ryan Dempster ($14 million) or Matt Garza ($9.5 million).
The best-case scenario for the Braves is for Jurrjens to return to form. That would give Wren several options as teams become buyers or sellers before the July 31 trade deadline.
"I think by the time it starts getting hot, as far as discussions, I think we're going to have a pretty good idea what our needs are," Wren told FOX Sports South. "In that regard, we're going to be aware. We're seeing everybody out there. Our major league scouts have done a good job of getting everyone seen already in the first half. And now we're doubling back and seeing guys that have possibilities."
Beachy's injury will not destroy the Braves' season, but if Jurrjens can't regain his past magic, their chances could disappear.