Braves looking to add experience to their pen

The Braves have produced the National League’s second-best bullpen ERA since losing Eric O’Flaherty to a season-ending elbow injury on May 18.  But instead of continuing to roll the dice with rather inexperienced pen, they will attempt to land at least one reliever before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

Jordan Walden and Luis Avilan have proven to be a reliable setup duo while filling the voids created by the absences of O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters, who also underwent season-ending elbow surgery in May.  But to lessen the workload placed on Walden and Avilan, the Braves would like to find a veteran who can provide depth in the middle relief role and occasionally work the eighth inning.

The Braves will be among the teams that show some interest in White Sox left-handed reliever Matt Thornton, who has a $6 million option and $1 million buyout for the 2013 season.

Walden’s ability to consistently handle left-handed batters with his changeup lessens the need for the Braves to look strictly for a left-handed reliever.  But they would certainly like to add a lefty to their pen, which currently includes two southpaws  —  Avilan and top pitching prospect Alex Wood, who had no experience as a reliever before being called up from Double-A Mississippi in late May.

Along with relief help, the Braves will spend the next few weeks searching for a potential defensive upgrade at third base and a left-handed bat for their bench.

Chris Johnson has proven to be one of the team’s most consistent offensive contributors while manning the third base position.  But his defensive woes have led the club to remove him for a late-inning defensive replacement over the past few weeks.  Ramiro Pena was getting some starts at third base before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in early June.

Now the light-hitting Paul Janish stands as the only utility infielder the Braves can confidently place at either the shortstop or third base positions.   Tyler Pastornicky’s contributions from a defensive standpoint will likely be limited to second base.

Without the switch-hitting Pena available, the only left-handed option on Atlanta’s bench is Jordan Schafer.  Thus in their search to find either a starting third baseman or a more offensively-talented utility infielder who can play the left side, the Braves will likely target players with the ability to hit from the left side.

–  Mark Bowman

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