It’s safe to say that the Atlanta Braves have a big decision to make in their starting rotation. Any resolution was put on hold on Tuesday as the club placed veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon on the 10-day disabled list with the left oblique strain. A move that felt oddly more like a stay of execution than respite for an ailing, struggling player.
“I kind of feel there’s something going on that’s not allowing him to perform the way he’s capable of,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker. “We figure it’s good to back off the stress and try to get him right. We’ll take 10 days and hopefully everything clears up to where he can start doing what he’s capable of doing.”
At the very least, this DL stint is an unusual development in a situation that has been trending in the wrong direction for the better part of two months.
After an inauspicious April, Colon suffered through a dismal May. But it was his first start in the month of June which left many wondering when and not if the team will remove him from the starting five. The tipping point I speak of may have arrived in the wake of Colon’s Monday outing, when the Phillies tallied eight earned runs and chased the veteran right-hander in the fourth inning. Colon found himself on the disabled list the following day with Snitker hoping that the break will help the 20-year vet both physically and mentally.
“He’s been getting treatment for a while,” said Snitker. “But I think at some point sometimes you have to make a decision to protect a player from himself a little bit to get back healthy and back off the throttle a little bit. Hopefully the plan is to skip a start or two and try to get right, just get back healthy. Sometimes those guys that have been around longer, you know they’re such warriors that they have little things going on and they don’t want to back off.”
The Braves invested $12.5 million in Colon this season and appear to have already reached the point of diminishing returns just 12 starts into the deal. With an ERA approaching 8.00 through 12 starts, Colon has proven largely ineffective with Atlanta. Following six innings of one-run ball against the New York Mets in his Braves debut, Colon has turned in just one other quality start in his last 11 assignments. That one came way back on April 16 against the Padres.
Colon, who turned 44 last month, has allowed 24 runs (17 earned) over his last 11 innings, culminating in his third consecutive losing decision on Monday. Following the game, manager Brian Snitker would not indicate whether or not Colon will make his next start, which is scheduled to come on Saturday as part of a double header against the Mets. The fact the club needs two starting pitchers that day may be the only thing that affords the veteran righty another chance.
With several young arms in the minors at their disposal, the Braves will have to choose a replacement for Colon and will be in need of at least two arms to pitch in Saturday’s twin bill against New York. As previously mentioned, both Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair remain on the 40-man roster and have big league time, while Sean Newcomb and Lucas Sims represent the next wave of higher ceiling arms yet to crack the majors. All four men are currently pitching in Triple-A Gwinnett. Calling on Newcomb or Sims carries more weight, given the developmental needs of both pitchers and the fact that they will likely have some struggles when they are called upon.
Snitker added that Atlanta will not accelerate the timetable for right-hander Kris Medlen, who returned to the organization over the winter and is trying to work his way back to the major leagues after suffering a shoulder injury last season while with Kansas City. Medlen, 31, debuted in mid-May, but has made just four minor league starts and has yet to throw 100 pitches in any of those. General manager John Coppolella indicated at the time of the signing that the team was eyeing the All-Star break as an initial timetable for Medlen’s return if all goes well.
“I think Med would’ve been a good option, but he’s not there yet,” said Snitker. “I don’t think it would be fair to him until his workload gets a little more substantial. He would be a guy you’d be real comfortable with because he knows how to navigate around a lineup and all, but I don’t think at this point in time, as far as he’s come and as good as he’s doing, we really don’t want to do that to him yet. I think three weeks from now would probably be a different story, but right now it’s just a little too early in his workload that he’s had so far to think that [Medlen] would be an option.”
Despite the dreadful results, the team seems committed to giving Colon another opportunity once healthy. It was unlikely the team would simply cut ties with Colon, hoping to avoid paying Colon to pitch for another team should he find a way to turn things around.
Whether or not Colon finds a way to remain in the Braves rotation upon his return remains to be seen.
Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can hear his show, “Around The Big Leagues” on Saturday mornings from 9-11 a.m. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter and Facebook.