Braves need improvement from young starters

Braves need improvement from young starters

Published Jun. 12, 2012 12:29 a.m. ET

Fredi Gonzalez has talked about the blips.

You know, the proverbial blips on the radar.

That's how he's described some of the starts by the Braves' youngest starters – a two-person group that includes Randall Delgado and Mike Minor – this year.

Blips is a mild way to describe the bumps, some bigger than others, those two have faced this year. The latest one came in the form of the big, bad New York Yankees and their powerful bats.

But you know what? Delgado actually caused more damage to himself than the Yankees inflicted on him in their 3-0 victory over the Braves on Monday night.

He allowed five hits in five innings, but it was his career-high six walks and a wild pitch that caused the most consternation among the Braves. Only one of those batters scored, but innings were prolonged and his pitch count escalated because of those walks, soaring to 110 in just five innings.

"It was his first time facing the New York Yankees with 40,000-plus in the stands," Gonzalez said. "I think he got himself a little amped up for the game. It's something he can learn from."

And that's the key.

For both Delgado and Minor, who is scheduled to start Tuesday's game against the Yankees.

They have to grow from these kinds of games, because the Braves need both of those guys to continue to progress and learn and mature into dependable starters if they want to contend in 2012.

Consistency is the biggest problem facing both Delgado, who is 22 years old, and Minor, who is 24. Monday's start was a perfect example of the blips that Gonzalez has talked about.

Delgado pitched one of the best games of his brief time in the majors – this was his 19th career start – when he shut down the Marlins for six-plus innings on Wednesday.

He walked one in a start that was reminiscent of his best career outing, when he held the Giants to one hit and one run last Aug. 16.
And then the Yankees and all their boppers and homers and not-so-homegrown vocal fans, came marching into Turner Field.

Delgado was more revved up than a Sprint Cup car.

His velocity was fine. His control was finicky.

And one of the first curveballs he threw was sent screaming into the right-field seats by longtime Braves nemesis Raul Ibanez.

By then, the Yankees led 2-0 and Delgado hadn't even walked a batter yet.

Three of those walks came in the third – loading the bases – one more in the fourth and the final two in the fifth. He maintained enough control to limit the damage, but the three runs were plenty for Yankees starter Ivan Nova, who shut the Braves down in his seven innings.

"That's the biggest thing. He minimized the damage," Gonzalez said. "He was excited. He was coming out of his delivery. In all honesty, he made some pitches. I think he had the bases loaded twice. And he got out of them giving up just one run. That's a good stepping stone. You felt like you were in the game the whole night."

Gonzalez liked what he saw from Delgado compared to several of his previous starts because this time he battled through his problems. Delgado has given up six home runs this year, but two of them have been grand slams and he set up another slam in another game.

On Monday, though, he coaxed Russell Martin to pop up with the bases loaded in the third. In the fifth, he struck out Nick Swisher and got Martin to ground into a fielder's choice after walking two batters in front of them.

"I was trying to do my job the best I could do," Delgado said. "I didn't feel like my pitches were running good tonight. I tried to keep the game close when my location wasn't good tonight."

Gonzalez said: "For the most part, we saw this type of outing early in the year where he would give up a grand slam. He kept pitching, kept battling and kept us in the ball game."

Now, it's Minor's turn to face the Yankees.

He was everything from tolerable to terrible for the better part of six weeks before coming through with an improved performance – five walks and four hits, but only one run – in a victory over the Marlins on Thursday.

It was his first win since April 19 and came on the heels of a May in which his ERA was 9.95.

Gonzalez has talked about the growing pains he expects with both Delgado and Minor.

He hopes he doesn't have too many more of them on Tuesday night.