LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Mike Minor’s pitching shoulder is sore again, and the Braves can only hope it’s not the beginning of a repeat from last season, or worse.
The left-hander has been scratched from his scheduled start Sunday after feeling shoulder tightness in the past couple of days following his regular bullpen and batting-practice throwing sessions. Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said Wednesday that Minor would be shut down indefinitely and see a specialist in the next few days.
“I’m not envisioning this – I don’t think anybody’s envisioning this – being a season-ending thing,” Hart said. “It does throw up a red flag, and obviously if you miss some time it’s going to set you back and that means you might not be ready to start (the season). I’m not ready to go there yet.
“I think we’re going to take a proactive approach, which at some point soon we’ll figure out what it is we need to do. This just sort of popped up.”
Hart said the pitcher might have another MRI on his shoulder and possibly have his back and muscles in that area examined.
The Braves currently have four candidates – veteran left-handers Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez, prospects Mike Foltynewicz and lefty Manny Banuelos – competing for the vacant fifth-starter job. If Minor isn’t ready to begin the season, they could go with two of those candidates in the rotation instead of one; consider other candidates in the organization such as Chien-Ming Wang, or make a move to acquire yet another starter. Hart gave no indication the latter option would be pursued, for now.
Minor, 27, reported no difficulties during his offseason throwing program. He reported to camp healthy had no problems in the first week to 10 days of workouts. On Feb. 19, the day before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, he won his arbitration case against the Braves and was awarded the $5.6 million salary he proposed instead of the $5.1 million the Braves proposed.
Until this week, Minor and Braves officials said they were confident he would put his injury-plagued 2014 season behind him. He was one of the four starters who were set in the rotation along with ace Julio Teheran, lefty Alex Wood and newcomer Shelby Miller from the Cardinals.
“The ball was coming out of his hand good,” Hart said of Minor’s early work. “Pitching coaches remarked, ‘This is Mike Minor.’ He said (this week) he just didn’t feel nearly like he did before. That he felt a little tightness.”
Minor struggled to a career-worst 6-12 record and 4.77 ERA in 25 starts last season after missing most of spring training with shoulder tendinitis, which landed him on the disabled list to begin the season and caused recurring problems all season.
His shoulder first became inflamed in the opening week of spring training last year when he increased his activities, after being unable to work out in January due to Dec. 31, 2013, urinary tract surgery. He had shoulder soreness periodically during the season and was held from his last start as a precautionary measure with the Braves eliminated from the wild-card race.
“He had an MRI last year; multiple (MRIs), quite frankly,” said Hart, adding that those MRIs all showed no damage in the shoulder. “I think the difference was that last year he had a reason (for injury) because he had the groin issue going in, he didn’t get to do his offseason work. I think that you feel, well, with the (normal) offseason everything should be up and running. But something’s presented intself, so we’re going to shut him down.
“Mike could go out there and pitch. It’s just that there’s that same kind of discomfort he felt (last year). He pitched 145 innings last year and never pitched really healthy last year. As he said, ‘I did it last year, I can go out, I got injections.’ I mean, he did things to go out and pitch. But I don’t think anybody wants that. We certainly don’t.
“This guy’s a big part of where we’re going, a big part of our future. There’s no reason to try to force that.”