Braves rookie lefty reliever Andrew McKirahan was reinstated to the 25-man roster Monday after serving an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. (Video by David O'Brien)

Braves lefty McKirahan back from 80-game drug suspension

Andrew McKirahan made a tearful apology to Braves teammates back on April 19 in Toronto, when the rookie left-handed reliever told manager Fredi Gonzalez, and then the entire clubhouse, that he would be suspended the next day for 80 games for using a performance-enhancing substance.

And so when he was reinstated Monday, having served his suspension and forfeited about $222,000 of his major-league minimum $507,000 salary – drug suspensions are unpaid – McKirahan greeted teammates, chatted with Gonzalez and coaches, then suited up and prepared for a series opener against the Dodgers.

“I said hello to everybody once I got here,” McKirahan said Monday afternoon at Turner Field. “Everyone’s really welcoming. I’ve got to earn back some respect, but that’s part of it.”

McKirhan, 25, was claimed off waivers from the Marlins in the last week of spring training, then got suspended for a drug test he failed in March while he was still with Miami. He told the Braves of his pending suspension immediately after a Sunday afternoon getaway-day game win at Toronto, in which McKirahan had retired both batters he faced.

He tested positive for Ipamorelin, a substance that releases growth hormone.

“It was a mistake, and I put that in the past,” he said Monday. “I’ve had a lot of support – family, friends, teammates, coaches – I’m ready to live in the present, look forward to the future and help this ballclub out any way I can.”

He made three appearance for the Braves before his suspension, allowing three hits and two runs in 4 1/3 innings, with one walk and two strikeouts. He wasn’t one of the key relievers they were relying upon to protect most leads in the early weeks of the season, but confidence in McKirahan was growing before the suspension.

Because he was a Rule 5 pick in December from the Cubs, the lefty had to reinstated to the Braves’ 25-man roster and remain on it for the rest of the season, or be offered back to the Cubs for $25,000 — half of the amount of the original Rule 5 claiming price.

The Braves have quickly gone from having one lefty reliever, Luis Avilan, to having three with the additions of Ross Detwiler, who signed as a free agent on Friday, and now McKiraham. Avilan was tied for the major league lead in appearances with 47 before Monday.

“Going off the (three) appearances (McKirahan) pitched for us, he was really good,” Gonzalez said. “So we’ll put him in there. He helps the bullpen. Now we’ve got three left-hander, and you can even use Detwiler as your long guy, because he’s done it, he’s had some starts. And you can use Andrew as a sixth-inning guy right now, or maybe later in the game. Get a tough left-hander later in the game, and kind of (reduce) Avilan’s appearances a little bit. Maybe we can monitor him a little bit more and back him off a little bit.”

In preparation for his return, McKirahan had a 2.84 ERA in seven relief appearances on a minor league rehab stint, with eight strikeouts and four walks in 6 1/3 innings, including six appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett. This after spending two months at the team’s spring-training site near Orlando, working out and pitching in 10 a.m. extended-spring training games.

“Yeah, it was definitely a long time,” he said. “But I was able to work out and throw and pitch down in Orlando, so I got my work in, stayed in shape, stayed strong. It’s a good feeling to be back, for sure.”

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