Braves, O'Flaherty equally happy to reunite

Braves, O'Flaherty equally happy to reunite

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Eric O'Flaherty returned to ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex as the first of the two left-handed relievers the Braves might add this week, he re-acquainted himself with the familiar environment and began looking forward to the opportunity to be reunited with pitching coach Roger McDowell.

"I talked to my agent about coming back here during the offseason, but there were so many lefties in camp that there really wasn't a fit," O'Flaherty said. "So I didn't really think it was any kind of possibility to be back here. I thought I had a pretty good chance to make [the Pirates], but if I didn't there might be an opening here. So it's definitely something I kept my eye on."

When the Braves re-assigned Alex Torres to Minor League camp on Monday, they essentially confirmed that they are not comfortable opening the season with any of the left-handed relievers they had brought to Spring Training with legit Opening Day roster hopes.

The Braves feel confident they satisfied their need for at least one left-hander when they acquired O'Flaherty from the Pirates for cash considerations on Sunday. But they will now continue elsewhere with the hope of finding a left-handed reliever who is a more attractive option than the ones they have seen during Spring Training.

Over the course of the past week, the Braves sent Rule 5 Draft selection Evan Rutckyj back to the Yankees and determined that they were not satisfied with what Ian Krol and Torres had to offer. At the same time, they were keeping an eye on O'Flaherty, whose eventually lost his battle with Cory Luebke to open the season as a left-hander in Pittsburgh's 'pen.

"This is basically my baseball home," O'Flaherty said. "I always keep track of what's going on here. So it was nice to get that phone call."

While with the Braves from 2009 to 2013, O'Flaherty worked under the guidance of McDowell and established himself as one of baseball's top relievers. Former Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel (1.46) and O'Flaherty (1.59) compiled the top two ERAs among all qualified MLB relievers from 2010 to 2012.

When O'Flaherty compiled a 0.98 ERA over 73 2/3 innings in 2012, he became the first reliever in MLB history to record a sub-1.00 ERA while recording at least 70 innings in a season.

Unfortunately for him, he has struggled to regain his previous level of dominance since undergoing Tommy John surgery during the 2013 season. He compiled a 8.10 ERA and allowed opponents to produce a .427 on-base percentage as he totaled 30 innings with the A's and Mets last season.

O'Flaherty has started to feel more like himself over the past couple of weeks. He surrendered two hits and did not issue a walk while facing 11 left-handed hitters during his time with the Pirates. One of his best outings occurred on Monday, when he recorded four strikeouts and surrendered two hits over two scoreless innings against the Braves.

"I feel pretty close to where I need to be, but it's good to be somewhere where they know when I'm at my best," O'Flaherty said. "That was a tough thing, going through the rehab process while changing teams. I don't know if they completely understood what I looked like at my best. I was getting pats on the back and thumbs up when I probably wasn't quite right. So it's good to be back with Roger."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.