MIAMI — One of baseball’s youngest teams got a little older Wednesday when the Braves traded for 35-year-old reliever Luis Ayala from the Baltimore Orioles.
The Braves traded minor league left-hander Chris Jones to the Orioles for Ayala, a well-traveled right-hander who had a 2.40 ERA in 118 appearances over the 2011-2012 seasons with the Yankees and Orioles.
“You look to add pieces that can give you more depth in your bullpen,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “This is one of those pieces. In watching him this spring, we thought he could help us.”
Wren said the Braves and Orioles began discussing Ayala in the final week of spring training. Baltimore had an injury to another pitcher and wanted to wait to see how that progressed before moving Ayala, a sinker/slider pitcher who relies more on movement than velocity, topping out in the upper-80 mph range with his fastball.
Braves setup man Jonny Venters injured his elbow in the last week of spring training and the left-hander is going to be out until at least late May, but Wren said the Braves didn’t make the trade in response to that.
They will have to make another roster move before Ayala joins the team for Friday’s series opener at Washington, and Wren wouldn’t elaborate on who might be moved. Relievers Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro are possibilities. Both are out of minor-league options and could be claimed by any team if the Braves tried to send either to the minors, so a trade might be more likely if either of them is the pitcher m moved to make way for Ayala.
Cory Gearrin has minor-league options, but the sidearmer has improved so much that the Braves would probably be reluctant to send him to the minors.
Adding Ayala gives the Braves a versatile reliever who can pitch in any role, from getting an out or two to working multiple innings.
“We’ll use him,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, who had Ayala on his Marlins team briefly in 2009. “Obviously we’ve got that back end of our bullpen pretty much solidified, but we’ll see how we use him.”
Ayala has pitched in two games this season: After giving up two runs, two hits, a homer and two walks while recording just one out against Tampa Bay in his first appearance on April 3, he pitched 1-2/3 scoreless innings (two hits, no walks) on Friday against Minnesota and got a win.
Ayala has a 3.37 ERA in 497 career appearances, all in relief. He also pitched for Montreal, Washington, Baltimore, Minnesota, Florida and the Mets. Twice he had 81 appearances in a season, with Montreal in 2004 and with the Nationals and Mets in 2008. Ayala pitched in 10 games for the 2009 Marlins and posted a career-high 11.74 ERA.
He spent the rest of the 2009 season with Minnesota and missed the entire 2010 season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. He’s had two good seasons after recovering from surgery, including a career-best 2.09 ERA in 52 appearances with the Yankees in 2011, albeit with 39 strikeouts and 20 walks in 56 innings.
To get him the Braves gave up Jones, who has spent seven seasons in the minors and not gotten past Double-A. He came to the Braves from the Indians organization in the trade for Derek Lowe after the 2011 season.
Jones had a 3.90 ERA in 45 relief appearances for Double-A Mississippi last season, with 61 strikeouts and 19 walks in 60 innings. So far this season he’d allowed two hits, two runs and two walks in 1-1/3 innings in his only appearance for Mississippi.