Maholm, Johnson plug critical holes for Braves

The Braves didn’t get a game changer.

They didn’t get the most dominant arm or the bat filled with the most pop.

They didn’t get Zack Greinke or Hunter Pence or Ichiro or even Ryan Dempster, who was on the verge of becoming a Brave but ended up a Ranger.

Here’s what happened, though.

The Braves added depth to a rotation that has been better of late, but remains fragile and in flux, as demonstrated by Tommy Hanson’s annual trip to the 15-day DL on Tuesday.

They also bolstered their bench, their outfield depth and their pinch-hitting flexibility.

Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson don’t provide the immediate name value that other players who switched jerseys do, but they ably plug the holes the Braves have struggled to fill this season.

I was in favor of the Braves’ pursuit of Dempster or Greinke or another big arm, even if it meant losing a prized arm.

They’re in position make the playoffs, either through the wild card or by overtaking the Nationals, and as we’ve seen the past six years, the postseason doesn’t come around as often as in the past.

This trade with the Cubs cost Arodys Vizcaino, whose highly regarded right arm is on the mend from Tommy John surgery, which means Chicago won’t have his services until next spring at the earliest.

It was tough to give up Vizcaino and minor league reliever Jaye Chapman, but they’re unproven and are not named Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran or Mike Minor.

“We improved the club without giving up the farm, or our future with Teheran, Delgado or (catching prospect Christian) Bethancourt, or some of the younger pitchers we have down there,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “They got a good pitcher in Chapman, and Vizcaino has already come up and pitched in the big leagues. As far as Tommy John goes, it’s like getting a root canal. He’ll be fine. He can’t help them right now, but he’ll help them in the near future.”

Maholm gives the Braves another healthy – and left-handed – starting pitcher that they’ve sorely needed all season.

At 30, he becomes the third-oldest member of the staff behind other 30-somethings Tim Hudson and Ben Sheets, and his career happens to be thriving.

Maholm is in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career.

He’s 9-6 with a 3.74 ERA, leaving him one victory from tying his season high of 10. His current streak of invincibility includes a 5-0 record and a 1.00 ERA in his past seven games, which includes six starts.

Maholm is set to join the Braves on Wednesday and make his first start Saturday.

“I’m excited for him to meet all of these guys,” said Johnson, who was with the Braves on Tuesday. “He’s the right guy to be put in this spot.”

Johnson has been coveted by the Braves for a couple of years, thanks to his many skills.

He is more than capable in left, center and right, and Gonzalez has already talked about giving Michael Bourn or Jason Heyward a day off this week.

The Braves have been short-handed from the right side since Matt Diaz, Andrelton Simmons and Jack Wilson went down with injuries, so Johnson’s bat helps there.

And he’s an excellent pinch-hitter, as this season’s .439 average (13-for-29) attests.

“Our guys love him,” Gonzalez said. “He’s going to fit in that clubhouse extremely well. He plays the game the right way. He’s a hard-nosed, blue-collar-type guy.”

I’m not ready to say Maholm and Johnson will be enough to assure a trip to the World Series, but the Braves are much better with them than without.