‘Buzzkill’: Braves disappointed in McKirahan after PED suspension

Braves rookie left-hander Andrew McKirahan was suspended without pay for 80 games after testing positive for Ipamorelin, a growth hormone.

Credit: Kevin C. Cox

Credit: Kevin C. Cox

Braves rookie left-hander Andrew McKirahan was suspended without pay for 80 games after testing positive for Ipamorelin, a growth hormone.

NEW YORK – The Braves didn’t have long to celebrate their series-clinching win Sunday at Toronto before a teammate delivered news met with disappointment and some anger.

Rookie left-hander Andrew McKirahan told Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, then the team, that the reliever was about to be suspended for using a performance-enhancing drug.

“He said, ‘I’m going to drop a bombshell on you,’” Gonzalez said. “I said, ‘What’s going on?’ I’m waiting to hear someone in the family died or something, and he says, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to get suspended for 80 games.’

“OK, all right. So we enjoyed this victory for the total of six minutes.”

Said Braves closer Jason Grilli: “Yeah, kind of a buzzkill right after a good series. Kind of a buzzkill.”

The suspension was announced by the commissioner's office Monday. The Braves called up rookie left-hander Ian Thomas from Triple-A Gwinnett to take the place of McKirahan, who was claimed on waivers from the Marlins at the end of spring training and had shown promise.

He retired both batters he faced in Sunday’s 5-2 win, including one strikeout, and had allowed three hits and two runs in 4 1/3 innings, with one walk and two strikeouts in three appearances.

Now he’s suspended without pay for 80 games after testing positive for Ipamorelin, a growth hormone. The suspension came less than three weeks after another Braves rookie reliever, hard-throwing Arodys Vizcaino, was also suspended 80 games after a positive PED test. In addition to the 80 games, neither would be eligible for postseason play this year if the Braves advance.

The suspensions are particularly problematic because the Braves have a good bullpen, but not a deep one.

Because McKirahan was a Rule 5 pick by the Marlins from the Cubs in December, the Braves have to keep him on their 25-man roster for the rest of the season once he’s eligible. But not until after the 80-game suspension. The Braves didn’t downplay their disappointment in McKirahan, 25.

Testing has become so commonplace that Gonzalez said there are testers in the clubhouse more often than not after games.

“They (testers) are in their all the time, and the thing that bothers you is guys keep trying to beat the system,” Gonzalez said. “I think Andrew was tested during spring training (with the Marlins), so obviously he wasn’t with us. That doesn’t make it right or wrong, but it’s just a matter of, you’re getting caught, and if you’re not smart enough to realize major league baseball is serious about this and they should be, then you’re not real smart. I know some of our veteran guys are upset. Guys keep getting caught and then all of a sudden you’re hurting the team.”

McKiran was just emerging as another reliever the Braves might be comfortable using in close games, in addition to the five-man core that’s gotten most of the important innings those situations – Grilli, setup man Jim Johnson, left-hander Luis Avilan and rookies Brandon Cunniff and Cody Martin.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s old news,” Grilli said. “Just new players that want to take the risk and gamble, and the penalties are in place. So if you want to gamble with your career, then by all means, good luck. It’s a shame because we’re still talking about this stuff.

“We’re all geared toward negative news. Bad news makes THE news, all the time. And it sucks for us because…. All I’m going to say about it is, everybody in this room has come together and backed each other up so far, so to have somebody let you down….”

Grilli said steroids and other PEDs were rampant when he was young player in the early part of last decade, but not nearly so much in today’s game.

“We have a list of things we can take, and if it’s not on that list, then you don’t take it,” he said. “I mean, it’s that simple. It’s spelled out for us. We have as many supplements as we can possibly take. If you want to take your chances by going off that list, then you know what, like I said, it’s on you now.”