Left handed pitcher Jerry Blevins, who the Braves acquired via trade, delivers a pitch against the Colorado Rockies Sunday, April 28, 2019, at SunTrust Park in Atlanta.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Braves acquire Jerry Blevins in effort to better bullpen

The Braves took a small step toward addressing their bullpen, acquiring Jerry Blevins from the A’s for cash considerations.

Desperate for a lefty specialist — and really any bullpen assistance — the Braves added Blevins, a 35-year-old well-versed on the National League East. Since 2014, Blevins’ major-league experience has been strictly in the division, where he pitched for the Nationals in 2014 and the Mets from 2015-18.

“Anytime I can avoid facing (Freddie) Freeman and (Nick) Markakis, that’s a win for me,” Blevins said. “(The Braves are) definitely playoff contenders. It’s great to be back in the big leagues and the East  Coast. Lovely town in Atlanta. I love it.”

Blevins had yet to appear in the majors this season. In Triple-A Las Vegas, he had a 1.69 ERA with 16 strikeouts against four walks across 10-2/3 innings (seven appearances). The Braves saw a low-risk, moderate-reward opportunity and struck a deal with Oakland prior to Saturday’s game, which was another bullpen meltdown in which the Braves gave up five runs in the ninth.

The newly added southpaw is a reinforcement with lefties Jonny Venters and Jesse Biddle on the injured list (formerly the disabled list).

He got in his first game Sunday, walking Mark Reynolds and getting a force out from Charlie Blackmon. The Braves rallied to defeat Colorado, 8-7.

“Jerry was throwing well in the minor leagues,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “He’s got experience, been in this division. Being in Las Vegas, the (Pacific Coast League) and striking out 16 guys in 10 innings, there’s no downside for us to take a look.

“We’re looking for bullpen help. He was someone who was available and we could get him pretty fast.”

Blevins said of his season: “I was locating my fastball and I found my curveball, which was inconsistent last year. I’m able to repeat my delivery which is key. You’re able to predict where you’re going and throw strikes.”

In 2016-17, Blevins was an electric part of the Mets’ bullpen. He posted a 2.87 ERA with 121 strikeouts against 39 walks over 148 appearances. Opponent hit .229 against him over those two seasons.

He suffered a steep drop-off last season, when Blevins’ ERA bloated to 4.85. His strikeouts were down, walks were up and his home runs per nine innings increased from 0.7 to 1.3. He signed a minor-league deal with the A’s in February, a brief homecoming to the franchise with whom he played from 2007-13.

“He didn’t have his best year last year, but with relievers it’s up and down,” Anthopoulos said. “The years before, ’17 and ’16, he had a sub-3.00 ERA. Struck out a bunch of guys. Last year, didn’t do that. So far in the early going in Triple-A, he threw the ball well. These relievers, they lock in at times. … The fact there were some things where he’d been throwing the ball well, worth it to take a shot.”

The Braves are at the point where nearly every lottery ticket is worth it. Their 4.74 bullpen ERA is eighth worst in the bigs, yet second-best in the NL East, where the Nationals, Mets and Marlins have field worse units.

All the Braves should be concerned with, however, is their own shortcomings. The bullpen lacks reliability, with Luke Jackson its most consistent performer entering Sunday. Wes Parsons was optioned to Triple-A for Blevins’ spot. Venters and Biddle are out, and weren’t pitching well when in. Arodys Vizcaino is done for the season.

Chad Sobotka and Shane Carle have been up and down. Despite giving up a homer to Trevor Story on Saturday, Dan Winkler has been solid in his return. Jacob Webb is still an unknown, and Josh Tomlin is long-relief.

The group hasn’t inspired much confidence. The rotation and offense are trending upward, but the Braves’ ceiling will be determined in how their reliever group improves — be it internally or through outside additions. 

“I couldn’t ask for a better position to be in with this team,” Blevins said. “Couldn’t be headed in a better direction. I want to win a World Series ring, and this is about as good a place as any to get one. I am super excited to be part of this team and organization, the history of winning. I want to be part of that next World Series.”

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