The Braves need someone to emerge as a reliable left-handed specialist out of the bullpen. Luis Avilan has been that pitcher before, so does he think he can do it again?
“We’ll see,” Avilan said soon after arriving at Turner Field on Thursday.
The Braves recalled Avilan from Triple-A Gwinnett before their series finale against the Dodgers. Avilan couldn’t retire lefties consistently over the first 47 games of the season so the Braves sent him to Gwinnett to work out his issues.
But Avilan faltered when he came on to pitch the ninth inning against the Dodgers on Thursday.
The Braves traled 5-4 after scoring three runs in the eighth. After Avilan retired pinch hitter Carl Crawford, lefty lead-off hitter Dee Gordon reached on a bunt single and Avilan hit Yasiel Puig with a pitch. Lefty Adrian Gonzalez scored Gordon with a double to give the Dodgers an insurance run.
“We will keep evaluating,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “The bunt base hit by Dee Gordon, that’s a tough one to evaluate. Left-lefty matchup with a bunt is really not fair. He just left the ball up over the plate with Gonzalez and he did a nice job with Crawford.”
Avilan joins James Russell as lefties in the bullpen. Russell, acquired in a July 31 trade from the Cubs, has allowed an earned run in each of his last three appearances. This season lefties are batting .324 with a .385 on-base percentage and .535 slugging percentage in 81 plate appearances against Russell.
Avilan, 25, has pitched 30 1/3 innings for the Braves this season while posting a 5.04 ERA and 1.71 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) with 18 strikeouts. In 65 innings over 75 games in 2013 Avilan had an 1.52 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with 38 strikeouts.
Avilan said he was relying too heavily on his sinker during his first stint with the Braves this year. He said he worked on his curveball and change-up at Gwinnett in addition to better locating his fastball.
“I was pitching with just one pitch at the beginning of the season,” Avilan said. “I feel like I have three good pitches now.”
Avilan made nine appearances with Gwinnett and posted a 5.40 ERA over 11.2 innings with 13 hits and 11 walks allowed. He attributed the poor numbers to his focus on tinkering with his pitches.
The Braves stretched out Avilan in his past two appearances in Gwinnett so he could work on all of his pitches. Avilan pitched two innings for Gwinnett on Friday and allowed one hit with two strikeouts and no runs and went 2 1/3 innings on Monday with three hits, two walks and an earned run allowed.
“I feel like I have my confidence back and I think I’m going to be OK,” Avilan said.