PHILADELPHIA -- When Mike Foltynewicz recorded just nine outs in Thursday night's 8-2 loss to the Pirates, he became the second Braves starting pitcher to complete fewer than four innings within a three-day span. Thus, there was a need to provide yet another Minor Leaguer a chance to serve as a long reliever in Atlanta's bullpen this weekend.
The latest exchange of long relievers was completed on Friday, when John Gant was optioned back to Triple-A Gwinnett and Joel De La Cruz's contract was purchased from the same club. Gant threw 38 pitches over 1 1/3 innings of relief on Thursday and would have been unavailable to pitch in Friday's opener in Philadelphia.
When Bud Norris lowered his relief ERA to 1.32 with a scoreless eighth inning in Friday's 7-1 win over the Phillies, the Braves provided indication he will now move from long relief to a setup role. Thus, De La Cruz will likely serve as the long relief option until the Braves determine whether they would rather have Gant or one of Gwinnett's other current pitchers fill this role in the future.
De La Cruz has posted a 5.96 ERA over 22 2/3 innings (13 appearances) for Gwinnett this season. The 26-year-old was promoted to Atlanta for one day in April, but he has never pitched at the Major League level.
If the Braves were simply looking to fortify their bullpen with another reliever, they would have likely recalled Chris Withrow, who has surrendered three hits and issued two walks over 6 1/3 scoreless innings for Gwinnett this year. But the club made this move to simply provide a reliever capable of completing multiple innings if necessary.
Norris had been mentioned as a potential candidate to take the recently demoted Aaron Blair's rotation spot in Sunday's series finale. But Casey Kelly appears to be the more likely candidate to gain this start. Kelly has produced a 2.67 ERA over five starts for Gwinnett.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.