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Braves closer Vizcaino dealing with balky shoulder

The Braves know that if they hope to have closer Arodys Vizcaino healthy for the long haul of a season, they’re going to have to be a bit more careful with him than most other teams are with their closers.

“Viz has been put back together a couple of times, so there’s always going to be an awareness of that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Saturday, a day after Vizcaino wasn’t available to pitch in a 15-inning loss to the Orioles led for a frenzy of social-media criticism of Snitker.

Vizcaino received a cortisone injection Thursday to alleviate soreness in the shoulder and wasn’t ready to pitch Friday because the medication hadn’t taken full effect yet.

He tested the shoulder again Saturday with some pre-game long-tossing in the outfield and still had some soreness, so the Braves will wait again and hope he’s ready for Sunday’s series finale. They’ve lost the first two games of the series.

No one outside the team was aware of the Vizcaino’s currently sore shoulder before Friday, seeing as the Braves didn’t mention it last week or before Friday’s game. So when Vizcaino didn’t enter that series opener with the Braves leading 3-1 lead to start the ninth, the figurative knives came out on Twitter and elsewhere the rest of the night during a game that lasted nearly 5-1/2 hours.

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As for his availability for Saturday’s game against the Orioles, Snitker said less than two hours before the 4:10 p.m. start: “Well, we’ll find out. I mean, everything points to where he’ll be OK today, but until he goes out, runs around and plays catch, we won’t know. But I’m going into the game feeling like he’s going to be all right.”

But after not using Vizcaino again Saturday, Snitker said after the game that the pitcher was still sore.

“We’ll see where he’s at (Sunday),” Snitker said. “Still felt it some, so hopefully he wakes up tomorrow and feels good.”

Vizcaino converted 15 of 17 save opportunities before Saturday and had a 1.82 ERA and .204 opponents’ average in 30 appearances with 33 strikeouts, 12 walks and two homers allowed in 29-2/3 innings. After giving up three runs and four hits over consecutive appearances May 13-15, he converted all eight save opportunities during a span of 10 scoreless appearances before the shoulder issue cropped up following his most-recent appearance June 17.

The medical report on “Viz” is extensive: Tommy John elbow surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2012 season. Season-ending calcium-cleanup procedure on the elbow in May 2013. Half-season suspension for performance-enhancing drugs in 2015. DL stints for shoulder inflammation and a strained oblique in 2016. Games missed for a topical elbow infection in 2016. ... 

And that’s just the significant stuff.

It has not been an easy ride with the 27-year-old pitcher, a flamethrower and dominant closer when everything is right, but a cause for occasional headaches trying to adjust and work around aches and pains when things aren’t right.

That’s led to some tricky situations the one that occurred Friday, when Vizcaino showed up at the park and said his pitching shoulder was still sore, rendering him unavailable in the view of Snitker and the Braves’ medical staff, who certainly weren’t going to pitch him after he let them know he wasn’t feeling right yet after the injection.

Snitker didn’t know until shortly before Friday’s game that Vizcaino wouldn’t be available. He had rested him last week in two games at Toronto, and that, plus team days off before and after that two-game series, gave Vizcaino five days of rest since his last appearance, which the team and the pitcher thought would be enough before Friday’s series opener against the Orioles. Hence the decision not to put him on the 10-day disabled list. 

But that was before the shoulder kept barking and he had the shot Thursday.

He wasn’t ready Friday and, of course, the game became a war of attrition. The Braves used every other reliever, getting three perfect innings from Jesse Biddle from the 12th through 14th innings before Peter Moylan gave up three runs in the 15th, including a Manny Machado two-run homer that lifted the Orioles to a 10-7 win.

“I think it’s just one of them spots in the year with him,” Snitker said Saturday. “We went through it last year with him a couple of times. Like I say, there’s just times where he’s going to have to be down, just to get him through the year. Like I say, he’s been through a lot, he’s been through a lot of injuries. He’s throwing the ball really well and overall feels really good, but there’s just going to be times when he’s not going to be available, so we have him (healthy) down the road.”

Because Snitker and the Braves hadn’t said before Friday’s game that Vizcaino wasn’t available, there was rampant speculation at the time as to why Vizcaino didn’t enter in the ninth. Dan Winkler and Sam Freeman got knocked around in the ninth for six runs, before the Braves rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings.

The Braves made a roster move before Saturday’s game, optioning backup outfielder/pinch-hitter Preston Tucker to Triple-A and recalling right-hander Lucas Sims to give them a fresh arm after using Biddle and Shane Carle for multiple innings Friday.

“Just added more length (with the Sims call-up),” Snitker said. “It’s going to be hard to use Jesse or Shane again. Vizzy’s a question. Now you’re cutting into your bullpen again. We needed the extra guy. ...

“I think it’s just one of them spots in the year with (Vizcaino). We went through it last year with him a couple of times. Like I say, there’s just times where he’s going to have to be down, just to get him through the year. Like I say, he’s been through a lot. He’s been through a lot of injuries. He’s throwing the ball really well and overall feels really good, but there’s just going to be times when he’s not going to be available, so we have him (healthy) down the road.”

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