As Eric O’Flaherty traveled to Gulf Breeze, Fla. to see Dr. James Andrews on Monday, the Braves continued to prepare for life in the bullpen without two of their top three set-up men.
Taped near the top of O’Flaherty’s locker is the photo that ran in Sports Illustrated in September of 2011 of the “Three-headed Relief Monster,” with O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters seated on dugout steps, closer Craig Kimbrel leaning against the bullpen wall.
Now all that’s left is Kimbrel.
Venters underwent season-ending ligament-transplant surgery on Thursday and O’Flaherty is scheduled to undergo ligament-transplant surgery on his elbow Tuesday afternoon.
“For that to happen to O’Flaherty it even puts the dagger in a little deeper,” Kimbrel said. “…It definitely hurts losing Jonny and O’Flaherty, but we’re just going to have to pick up and keep on going because the season is not ending right now. We still have a long ways to go.”
Kimbrel was not available to pitch Monday night against the Twins after saving three games in a row over the weekend against the Dodgers. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was going to have to mix and match with Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin.
With Jordan Walden (shoulder inflammation) on the disabled list at least until May 27, the remaining bullpen arms are Anthony Varvaro, David Carpenter and Cory Rasmus. Varvaro and Carpenter have 120 major league appearances between them over the past four seasons, but the stakes just got bigger for both. Rasmus was waiting his major league debut entering Monday’s game.
“It’s going to be a little learning curve for a few guys but it’s also going to be good for them as well,” Kimbrel said. “A lot of the times when guys are put in pressure (situations), that’s when guys either back down or they put their fists up and fight and become better pitchers. So hopefully that’s what happens and our team doesn’t slow down, we keep on rolling.”
Kimbrel can’t do anything more physically than he already is in his role as closer, but he said he’ll try to help fellow relievers as much as he can prepare for certain game situations. Into his third season as the Braves closer - and one of the best in the game at that - he’s in a position to take a veteran leadership role even though he’s still only 24.