LAKELAND, Fla. — Cory Gearrin became the latest Braves pitcher to leave a game with a sore elbow Tuesday, and the sidearm reliever can only hope it’s no worse than the initial diagnosis of a sprain.
The right-hander left with two out and a 2-0 count on Torii Hunter in the fifth inning of a Grapefruit League game against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Gearrin had faced two batters, allowing a leadoff single and inducing a double-play grounder, before throwing two errant pitches to Hunter and leaving the game.
“It was just kind of tender a little bit, didn’t really feel right,” Gearrin said. “The last two I threw I definitely knew something felt a little tender or whatever. At this point in camp I didn’t really want to go out there and try to pitch through anything like that.”
As he jogged to the clubhouse down right right-field line about five minutes later, Gearrin held his right arm gingerly at his side. He had his elbow in a compression wrap after the game, and will be examined by a specialist Wednesday.
“I don’t have any idea. They’re calling it an elbow sprain,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We’ll see tomorrow, see how it goes with the doctor…. After the second wild pitch he started playing around with his fingers.”
Gearrin, who’ll be 28 in April, had a 3.77 ERA in 37 appearances for the Braves last season, with 23 strikeouts and 16 walks in 31 innings. He was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett on July 5 and didn’t pitch again due to a strained shoulder.
He has a 6.35 ERA in a team-high 12 appearances this spring, with 13 hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts in 12-1/3 innings. Gearrin had allowed one hit and one run with four strikeouts in four innings over his last four appearances before Tuesday.
“I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball well and feel really good about how I’m pitching and getting ground balls,” Gearrin said. “So you obviously want to keep going. Hopefully give it a couple of days and it should be good to go.”
The Braves lost starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to torn elbow ligaments on consecutive days March 9-10. Medlen’s injury was initially diagnosed as a forearm strain and Beachy’s as biceps tightness. Subsequent MRIs revealed torn ulnar collateral ligaments in each case and both pitchers had season-ending Tommy John surgery, each for the second time in his career.
Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of Braves reliever Jonny Venters’ elbow injury in a Grapefruit League game against the Tigers in Lakeland. Venters was later diagnosed with a torn UCL and underwent the second Tommy John surgery of his career. He’s still in the rehab process and hopes to be back in June.
The Braves had pared their spring training roster to 29 on Monday, and Gearrin, who is out of minor-league options, was penciled in for one of the eight bullpen spots for the season-opening 12-man pitching staff (that configuration will change to seven relievers and five starters in the second week, when they need a fifth starter for the first time).
Even in a best-case scenario, Gearrin now seems unlikely to be ready to open the season. The Braves had two rookie left-handers, Ian Thomas and Atahualpo Severino, competing for one spot, and Thomas had moved ahead and was expected to fill that role. If Gearrin’s out, they could keep Severino, or bring back lefty Ryan Buchter, who was optioned Monday. Unlike Thomas and Severino, he’s already on the 40-man roster.
The Braves could bring back one of the other relievers sent down earlier, although none pitched particularly well in big-league camp. The could also look to add a reliever waived or released by another team this week.