The Braves have used 27 pitchers out of the bullpen this season. That total includes a few emergency fill-ins and some appearances for long relief, but the changes have affected the back end of the bullpen, too.
The latest roster shuffling has left Arodys Vizcaino as the closer. With Jason Grilli’s status uncertain for the start of next season after he suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon, the Braves want to take a long look at Vizcaino in the role.
Beyond that, the bullpen roles are fluid.
“I think we are still kind of playing around with it,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday before the start of a two-game series against the Rays. “Obviously for the long run we want Vizcaino to get into the role of the closer or give him that opportunity. I think it’s whatever falls after that.”
Vizcaino took over as the closer after the Braves sent Jim Johnson to the Dodgers in a three-team trade July 30. That disrupted the bullpen again after Grilli went down July 17 and Johnson became the closer.
The timing was unfortunate for the Braves. The bullpen’s 3.22 ERA in July was its best month of the season, and the 72 percent conversion rate on saves (8-for-11) tied April for the best.
Vizcaino has converted two of two save opportunities, both of which came during the Marlins series last week. He did so while allowing three base runners.
For the season, Vizcaino had held opponents scoreless in 14 of 15 appearances and stranded six of seven inherited base runners entering Tuesday. He had a 0.66 ERA with 12 strikeouts and six walks in 13 2/3 innings.
Gonzalez lately has been using both of his left-handers, Andrew McKirahan and Matt Marksberry, in matchups against lefty hitters. Ryan Kelly and David Aardsma have been the top right-handers behind Vizcaino with Ross Detwiler also getting chances.
Those pitchers will be mixed and matched as the bridge to Vizcaino. It’s nothing new for the Braves’ bullpen.
“I think we’ve been playing around with it for five months,” Gonzalez said.
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