‘Coppy’ vows Braves won’t be caught short in bullpen again

The Braves’ second-half collapse in 2016 was accelerated by the steady parade of ineffective relief pitchers who were cycled through the bullpen. Injuries and trades compounded the problem.

Braves general manager John Coppolella said that experience is one big reason the team brought so many pitchers to spring training this year. He said that’s why the team could afford to release right-hander David Carpenter, a top reliever in 2013 and 2014, after just one Grapefruit League appearance.

“We got caught short (in the bullpen) last year with some guys who probably weren’t ready,” Coppolella said “It won’t happen this year.”

The bullpen will be anchored by veteran Jim Johnson, who figures to be the Opening Day closer if Jason Grilli is not recovered in time from Achilles surgery. Hard-throwing holdover Arodys Vizcaino was impressive in his first full season in 2015.

The Braves last year added Chris Withrow, who sat out because of elbow and back surgeries in 2015 but was an effective reliever for the Dodgers the previous two seasons. They also have non-roster veteran Carlos Torres, who was effective for the Mets in 2013 and 2014 before a down season in 2015, and 2014 Rule 5 pick Dan Winkler.

The Braves lost left-hander Andrew McKirahan to a season-ending elbow injury last week but still have plenty of left-handers as bullpen candidates. They include two pitchers on the 40-man roster, veteran Ian Krol and 2015 holdover Matt Marksberry, and non-roster invitees Alex Torres, Hunter Cervenka and Evan Rutckyj.

Braves relief pitchers ranked second in the majors in ERA in 2012 (2.76), first in 2013 (2.76) and 11th in 2014 (3.31). They plummeted to next-to-last in 2015 (4.69) after they traded several mainstays before the season, saw Grilli go down with his injury and then traded Johnson and left-hander Luis Avilan during the season.

“We feel like we’ve got a lot more depth than last year and even the past two, three years,” Coppolella said.