Braves will skip struggling Mike Minor’s next start

Credit: Pat Sullivan

Credit: Pat Sullivan

SAN DIEGO – The Braves are going to give skidding left-hander Mike Minor a little time to try to regroup.

His ERA climbed to 5.42 after Minor allowed five runs in five innings of Friday’s 10-1 loss to the Padres, and the Braves will skip Minor’s next rotation turn and not start him again until Aug. 12 against the Dodgers, manager Fredi Gonzalez said Saturday.

“Minor was good with it. He understood completely,” Gonzalez said. “He goes, I suck.”

Minor gave up nine hits and two walks against the Padres, including two homers by Tommy Medica to make it 12 homers he’s allowed in his past 10 starts. Minor has an alarming 7.33 ERA and .357 opponents’ average in that period, with 85 hits and 17 walks allowed in 54 innings.

Minor’s 5.42 ERA is the fifth-highest in the majors among pitchers with at least 80 innings, and the second-highest in the National League, ahead of only the Cubs’ Edwin Jackson (5.79). Gonzalez said that Minor, after having a couple of rest days following his 92-pitch outing Friday, would be available to pitch out of the bullpen next week, presumably until a few days before his next start.

“We’ll use him in (relief) if we have to,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously we’re not going to bring him in to get a lefty out in the seventh, that kind of stuff. But if we find a place where we can get him some innings, we’ll get him some innings. If there’s times where he hasn’t pitched in a while he’ll get a nice bullpen session (on the side).”

The Braves wouldn’t use him to get a left-handed hitter out because that’s one area in which he’s been inexplicably awful this season. The lefty has allowed a majors-worst .384 average (33-for-86) by lefty batters, with 10 extra-base hits and a .558 slugging percentage. Right-handers have hit .293 with a .505 slugging percentage in 321 at-bats against him.

A year ago, Minor went 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA and had more conventional splits for a lefty: .217 opponents’ average and .322 slugging percentage, compared to .237/.400 by right-handed hitters.

Those numbers have been flipped on their heads in a dizzying, confounding season for Minor, whom the Braves had expected to be one of their top-three starting pitchers this season along with Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran, before Medlen had season-ending elbow surgery in March.

Minor spent April on the 15-day disabled list recovering from shoulder tendinitis, and in three months since returning his ERA has climbed from 3.41 in six May starts, to 5.90 in five June starts, to 7.00 in five July starts, and 9.00 in his first August start.

“It’s been frustrating all year,” Minor said after Friday’s loss, when after three innings he had already allowed five runs and seven hits including two homers. “I’m just trying to battle. Tonight (pitching coach) Roger (McDowell) came out there and asked me, ‘Are you going to battle through this?’ And I said, yeah, I’m not giving up. But it’s going to be week to week, I guess. I just can’t really get a rhythm.”

After Minor got knocked around for three innings, McDowell told him he needed to start throwing his breaking ball more, a pitch that Minor has seemed reluctant to throw frequently this season, even though it’s been one of his most effective pitches.

“The ranking in his mind of his pitches sometimes is not correct,” Gonzalez said. “For example, in his mind he may think it’s fastball, changeup, slider, curveball. And we sit back and re-evaluate and say, ‘No, your curveball is better than a fourth pitch. So use it more often.’ That’s just an example, but you know what I mean. I’m not saying the curveball is better than the other pitches, I’m saying sometimes the pitchers get skewed on what their pitches are.”

Minor did start throwing it more after the first three innings, and Minor gave up only two hits and one walk in his last two innings. But the damage had already been done. Again. Two more homers in the first three innings, each with a runner on base.

“The home run balls are just bad execution on pitches,” Gonzalez said. “You see those pitches that Medica hit yesterday, nothing again him but those are middle-middle pitches. I mean, those pitches should be taken (over the fence) or decapitate one of the infielders.”