Braves shuffle around depleted rotation

Braves shuffle around depleted rotation

ATLANTA -- As the Braves have progressed through the past week unsure of who the next day's starter will be on multiple occasions, the six-game winning streak they produced a couple weeks ago has started to feel like ancient history.

Injuries, regression and the recent Bud Norris trade have depleted a starting rotation that will welcome Lucas Harrell back to the Majors to start Saturday afternoon's game against Jose Fernandez and the Marlins.

Fernandez came off the bench to hand the Braves a 7-5, 12-inning loss on Friday night with the two-run double he hit off Casey Kelly, who had stood as Atlanta's likely starter for Saturday until he was forced to make his extra-inning appearance.

Instead of starting Saturday's game, Kelly seems to be the likely candidate to be optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Harrell, a 31-year-old right-hander who Braves manager Brian Snitker admitted he knew little about as he addressed the media after Friday's loss. Harrell signed with the Braves two days after Snitker replaced Fredi Gonzalez as Atlanta's manager.

"I really don't know a lot about him," Snitker said. "I just kind of looked up his numbers, and [third-base coach Bo Porter] had him in Houston. I think he's a groundball-sinker guy. He's been through the war, so that's good and has been pitching OK [with Gwinnett], so hopefully he can extend the game for us."

The Braves certainly never anticipated having to provide a start to Harrell, who hasn't seen the big league level since producing a 9.49 ERA in three starts for the 2014 Astros club that was managed by Porter. But with Williams Perez and John Gant on the disabled list and Aaron Blair back at Gwinnett attempting to regain the promise he carried into this season, they didn't really have many attractive options to fill this rotation vacancy, which was created when Norris was traded to the Dodgers on Thursday.

Norris delivered six scoreless innings in his Dodgers debut on Friday night. But given where the Braves are in their rebuilding process, they seemed wise to trade the veteran right-hander before he lost the trade value he suddenly gained with his unexpected success in five June starts.

"That's kind of where we are right now," has been a popular response Snitker has provided to questions about the challenges he has faced while dealing with the effects of a rebuild. The Braves have lost seven of 10 since their six-game winning streak, and they now have a rotation that includes both Jose De La Cruz and Harrell, two pitchers who were simply supposed to provide depth at Gwinnett.

After Tuesday's loss to the Indians, the Braves announced the 27-year-old De La Cruz would make his Major League debut on Wednesday. After De La Cruz provided an admirable effort, Snitker revealed Mike Foltynewicz would return from the disabled list on Thursday without making his previously planned second rehab start.

De La Cruz's first career K

There was understandably widespread laughter when Snitker was asked before Friday's game if he had decided who would start on Saturday. At the time, he indicated Kelly would get the start if he wasn't needed before the end of the night.

"We'll wait to see who is standing tonight," Snitker said.

For the Braves, this is where they are at right now, and it's not where they wanted to be.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.