It’s safe to say Mike Minor never felt as good after giving up four home runs in a game as he did after his fifth and likely final rehab start Friday night for Double-A Mississippi.
Minor gave up five runs and 10 hits, including four homers, in seven innings of a 5-1 loss at Pensacola, Fla., where by all accounts – from fans on Twitter to team executives — the wind was blowing strong and steadily out to left field. That’s where all the home runs were hit, including three that Minor said were “pop-ups.”
The Braves could plug plug Minor into their rotation at the end of week, although manager Fredi Gonzalez said they would not make any decision until after he throws a bullpen in the next day or two. He is expected to take the spot of rookie David Hale in a rotation that’s been easily the best in baseball through the first nearly four weeks of the season.
Hale’s next scheduled turn would be next Friday, which seems the most likely spot for Minor to move into the rotation to make his debut for that home-series opener against the Giants.
“I felt good — I felt better than probably all the other (rehab starts),” Minor said of Friday’s rehab start, in which he threw 82 pitches and had no walks with two strikeouts, then threw 13 more pitches in the bullpen to get to 95 total pitches. “(Results) didn’t show it, but three out of the four were pop-ups. One guy got me, but the other ones….
“They had a different approach, too. Everything was pull approach. I felt like everything I threw in, they were right on it, they were looking for it, they wanted it in. But I felt good. I didn’t really care about the outcome. Tough place to pitch; I don’t know how anybody is successful (pitching) there, unless you just throw sinkers all day.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said general manager Frank Wren watched the game on the Internet and confirmed Minor’s description of the wind-blown conditions.
“(Wren) said the wind was really howling out to left field,” Gonzalez said. “We got what we wanted. We got his pitch count up. He’s healthy. Before we make any announcements where he’s going to fit in or that kind of stuff, we’ll let him throw a bullpen and see where we plug him in. What we won’t do is disrupt anybody.”
By not disrupting anyone, Gonzalez meant that the Braves wanted to make sure that none of their top starters would have his usual rest period of fours days between starts extended to more than six days as a result of plugging Minor into the rotation coupled with off days in the schedule last Thursday and this Monday.
Braves starters led the majors with a 1.68 ERA before Saturday, more than a half-run better than the second-ranked Cardinals starters (2.21). While Hale took a solid 2.93 ERA into his fourth start Saturday night against the Reds, the other four in the rotation rank among the NL’s top ten, including league leader Aaron Harang (0.85), Alex Wood (1.54), Julio Teheran (1.80) and Ervin Santana (1.95).
The Braves haven’t announced pitching plans beyond Sunday, when Teheran starts the series finale against Cincinnati. The likely starters for the Miami series are Wood on Tuesday, followed by Harang on Wednesday and Santana in Thursday’s series finale. Wood and Harang would be on six days’ rest, and Santana on five days’ rest.
The Braves could then plug Minor into Hale’s spot for Friday’s home-series opener against the Giants, and Teheran would be on five days’ rest Saturday.
The Braves haven’t said that Hale will be the pitcher bumped to make room for Minor, but any other move would be surprising.
“We’re pitching well and playing well. You don’t want to just disrupt that,” Gonzalez said. “It’ll be difficult. But it’s not like we’re going to put anybody up against the wall and shoot anybody. I’m sure whoever gets bumped or however way we decide to go, that odd man out will go to Triple-A and that odd man out who went to Triple-A will come back, sooner or later. He’ll come back and help us win, because we’ll be playing 162 games.”
The more difficult decision for the Braves will be when veteran Gavin Floyd is ready to come off the disabled list, perhaps in another week or two. He’s near the 12-month point in his rehab from Tommy John elbow surgery and is scheduled to make one more rehab start before the Braves decide what to do with him.