While Eric O’Flaherty was in Gulf Breeze, Fla., getting the bad news from Dr. James Andrews on Monday — he’ll undergo ligament transplant surgery there on Tuesday — the Braves prepared for life in the bullpen without two of their top three set-up men.
Taped near the top of O’Flaherty’s locker is the photo that ran in Sports Illustrated in September of 2011, entitled the “Three-headed Relief Monster,” with O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters seated on dugout steps, closer Craig Kimbrel leaning against the bullpen wall.
Now all that’s left is Kimbrel.
Five days after Venters underwent season-ending ligament-transplant surgery, O’Flaherty will have the same Tommy John procedure. The typical recovery time is 12 months. O’Flaherty is eligible to become a free agent for the first time in 2014.
“For that to happen to O’Flaherty, it even puts the dagger in a little deeper,” Kimbrel said before Monday’s game. “… It definitely hurts losing Jonny and O’Flaherty, but we’re just going to have to pick up and keep on going because the season is not ending right now. We still have a long ways to go.”
Kimbrel was not available to pitch Monday night against the Twins after saving three games in a row over the weekend against the Dodgers. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was going to have to mix and match with Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin.
With Jordan Walden (shoulder inflammation) on the disabled list at least until May 27, the remaining bullpen arms are Anthony Varvaro, David Carpenter and Cory Rasmus. Varvaro and Carpenter have 120 major league appearances between them over the past four seasons, but the stakes just got bigger for both. Rasmus, called up from Triple-A Gwinnett, was awaiting his major league debut entering Monday’s game.
“It’s going to be a little learning curve for a few guys but it’s also going to be good for them as well,” Kimbrel said. “A lot of the times when guys are put in pressure (situations), that’s when guys either back down or they put their fists up and fight and become better pitchers. So hopefully that’s what happens and our team doesn’t slow down. We keep on rolling.”
Kimbrel can’t do anything more on the mound than he already is in his role as closer, but he said he’ll try to help fellow relievers as much as he can prepare for certain game situations. Into his third season as the Braves closer — and one of the best in the game at that — he’s in a position to take a veteran leadership role even though he’s still only 24.
Walden update: Walden said his shoulder felt "pretty good" after he played catch Monday for the first time since going on the disabled list with inflammation.
Walden is targeting a return as soon as he’s eligible to come off the disabled list Monday in Toronto. But he won’t know for sure until he sees how his shoulder responds when he gets back on the mound.
“That’s what we’re shooting for, but it’s got to be feeling good,” Walden said. “… I just need to make sure I’m fully healthy when I come back because we already have great guys down there still. I just want to be part of it down there. I want to be able to help out Craig a little bit.”
Walden is one of three set-up men the Braves were projected to have pitching in front of Kimbrel this season to be placed on the DL. He said his shoulder has bothered him for some time but it got to the point in San Francisco on May 11 where he needed to shut it down.
Walden, who is 1-1 with a 4.85 ERA in 14 appearances, allowed five runs in 1 1/3 innings over his past three appearances.
He said his shoulder felt much better when he threw from 60 feet on Monday. He was planning to back it up to 90 feet Tuesday and possibly throw a bullpen session. The Braves would like to get Walden in some minor league rehabilitation games before activating him.
Simmons appeals: Andrelton Simmons went 4-for-12 (.300) in the weekend series against the Dodgers but could have been even better. Simmons had four borderline scoring plays go against him, one of which the Braves official scorer changed late Sunday night and another two that Simmons is appealing.
The Braves official scorer changed a fifth-inning error on L.A. shortstop Nick Punto to a base hit Sunday night after watching video replay and determining Punto had stumbled on the play.
Simmons is appealing a line drive hit to left in the seventh inning Friday night ruled as an error on Carl Crawford and an error charged to third baseman Luis Cruz in the sixth, which he thought he hit the ball hard enough to warrant an infield single.
“I watched the video and he just threw his glove up like hoping he catches it,” Simmons said.
Braves third baseman Chris Johnson appealed to Major League Baseball to get a Denard Span hit changed to an error that cost Kris Medlen two earned runs on May 2 against the Nationals. The scoring decision was upheld.
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