By: Ryan Korp
Eric O’Flaherty becomes the latest Atlanta Braves pitcher to suffer “elbow tightness”, the dreaded words that every pitcher fears and ultimately leads to one thing – Tommy John.
Braves reliever Johnny Venters already underwent his second career Tommy John surgery this season, sidelining him for the remainder of the year and most of next year.
Venters and O’Flaherty were part of the dominant Braves bullpen the last few seasons, forming an almost unhittable bridge from the starters to lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel. Last year the two appeared in 66 and 64 games out of the pen.
There was concern going into last season after the bullpen was overworked in the 2011 season and started to tire out in September. 2011 saw O’Flaherty post a ERA under one in 78 games out of the pen and Venters appeared in 85 games, posting a 1.84 ERA and 96 strikeouts.
Again in 2010 Venters pitched in 79 games, seemingly coming in to pitch every 8th inning of importance. Since being called up in 2010, Venters averaged 77 games per year for the strong Atlanta bullpen.
O’Flaherty averaged 69 games per year over the last four seasons with Atlanta.
The Braves have had a number of pitchers suffer the Tommy John injury over the last few seasons. Along with O’Flaherty and Venters this year, Brandon Beachy suffered the injury last season, Kris Medlen and Peter Moylan underwent the procedure in previous years.
In 2008, Moylan underwent the surgery in May after being the Braves and many times league-leader in appearances. In his first full season in the Atlanta pen, he logged 80 games. He followed that with seasons of 87 and 85 appearances and was basically done after that.
It seems that maybe there is something in the water in Atlanta, with so many pitchers having elbow problems recently. Or maybe, just maybe, it could be that they are being overworked year after year. The troubling part of all this is that the young superstar closer at the back of the bullpen could suffer the same fate.
Kimbrel has burst on the scene has one of the best closers in baseball right now and is doing with absolutely overpowering stuff. Batters seem to have no chance when he comes into games. He pitched in 79 and 63 games the last two seasons. Being such a hard thrower, the trend seems to be that he could be heading toward elbow problems in the future.
Bullpen management needs to be better in Atlanta to protect the powerful arms that they have. There is no sense having a dominant pen if guys are overworked and get hurt in three years.