With a healthy Brandon McCarthy, an improving Mike Foltynewicz and Luiz Gohara entering his first full season after an impressive September call-up, the Braves thought their 2018 starting rotation could be much better than most prognosticators predicted.
But Gohara was a big part of their hopes, and for now the hard-throwing, hefty rookie is sidelined with a sprained ankle, an injury that happened during a routine fielding drill Friday after he’d alread missed two weeks with a strained groin.
Braves starters had a 1.30 ERA before fill-in Matt Wisler got knocked around Sunday by the Tigers for five hits, four runs and two walks in three innings of a 6-3 loss in what was to have been Gohara’s spring debut until he got hurt.
Opening-day starter Julio Teheran and Foltynewicz each has pitched nine scoreless innings in three spring starts, and projected rotation member Sean Newcomb was sharp in his most-recent start against the Blue Jays.
Newcomb came to camp as a candidate for one of two openings in the rotation but now appears to be a lock, given Gohara’s situation.
The Braves will re-evaluate Gohara within a couple of weeks, but there’s no reason to believe he’ll be back before May, considering how far behind other pitchers he’s going to be once he’s cleared to resume throwing.
“It’s going to be a while,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You’re not going to be able to throw, so that’s just going to set you behind that much more. He was behind anyway, now you can’t throw for two weeks or whatever it is. You’re just that much farther behind.”
Asked if it were, for all intents and purposes, as if Gohara would be starting spring training again once cleared medically, Snitker said, “Yeah, pretty much. You’re exactly right. Just going to start over again and have to go through the (normal pitching) progression again.”
Former prospect Wisler got the start Sunday against the Tigers, moving up from a planned relief appearance to replace Gohara after he stepped wrong covering first base in a fielding drill.
Gohara was on crutches this weekend, the ankle wrapped but no longer in the walking boot he wore Friday after the injury. There is no timetable for his return, but the Braves believe it’ll be quicker than it would’ve been had he been diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, which generally take longer to heal.
“And some of these young guys are quick healers,” Snitker said. “It’s his push-off foot; I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I guess better than landing foot. I don’t know.”
Unless the Braves sign or trade for another proven pitcher, the array of potential fifth-starter fill-ins ranges from the likes of high-level lefty prospect Max Fried to former All-Star Scott Kazmir, who’s trying to revive his career after missing all of last season with the Dodgers due to injuries, and former top prospects Wisler, Lucas Sims and Aaron Blair.
“When something like that happens it gives an opportunity for someone else to do good,” Snitker said. “It’s funny how things work out.”
When it was mentioned to Snitker that it might give Kazmir a little better shot at a chance to stick around, Snitker said, “I really hope he does. You really need him, if he continues to progress and everything. That would be a good thing. But if not, somebody. We’re going to give it to somebody.”
Because Newcomb has minor-league options, if the Braves give the last rotation spot to Kazmir there’s a scenario in which Newcomb would begin the season in Triple-A until the Braves need a fifth starter for the first time April 10 in the 11th game of the season.