Braves' bullpen dealt setbacks
Soriano to undergo MRI on elbow; Gonzalez's return delayed
ATLANTA -- Over the past couple of weeks, the Braves have received both good and bad news regarding their bullpen on seemingly a daily basis. Unfortunately, the news regarding Rafael Soriano got worse while he threw a bullpen session at Turner Field on Tuesday afternoon.
Soriano's latest bullpen session was cut short when he felt further discomfort in his right elbow. Given that the veteran closer has been battling elbow pain since early March, the Braves have opted to send him for further evaluation. He'll undergo an MRI scan and other imaging tests on Wednesday.
"It just hasn't seemed to improve much," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "It's a lingering issue that we want to get to the bottom of. It had seemed to be getting better."
Just when it looked like Wren's bullpen was improving, he's been forced to deal with some sort of setback. With little surprise, the Braves also announced on Tuesday that Peter Moylan will undergo season-ending surgery to repair his right elbow tendon on Thursday in Birmingham, Ala.
Moylan is 95 percent sure that he'll need Tommy John elbow ligament transplant surgery, which would require at least a full year of rehab. Noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews has said there is a five percent chance that the bone spur that is impeding the Australian reliever's ligament can be repaired via another surgery.
While the Moylan development didn't cause any alarm, news that Mike Gonzalez had a little tightness in his left elbow this past weekend did at least force the Braves to realize his return might be delayed until the final week of May. Still, they didn't seem concerned, providing indication that he was finally feeling the discomfort that all pitchers eventually feel while coming back from Tommy John surgery.
The Braves are still hopeful that Gonzalez will be able to make a two-inning appearance on Wednesday or Thursday. If all goes well, Wren said he's hopeful that the left-handed reliever will still be able to begin a Minor League rehab assignment "in the near future."
"Everybody [coming back from Tommy John] gets [this tightness] at some point," Wren said.
Soriano, who hasn't pitched since recording a save on April 6, said after Friday's bullpen session that the discomfort in his elbow wasn't as great as it had previously been. While there might have been a hint of progress in his words, the fact that the discomfort lingered for so long always seemed troubling.
After making a career-high 71 appearances with the Braves last season, Soriano signed a two-year, $9.1 million contract. Before signing this deal, the 28-year-old reliever traveled to Atlanta to undergo an MRI and other tests similar to the ones that will be performed again on Wednesday.
Wren remains hopeful that Soriano will be able to overcome his discomfort and that Gonzalez will overcome the expected pitfalls that come following Tommy John surgery. As for John Smoltz, who is currently battling right shoulder problems, the Braves don't know when he might be able to join their bullpen.
But if he's able to stay healthy and join a mix that also includes either Soriano or Gonzalez, the Braves could still potentially have a strong bullpen.
"We feel like we're going to have some quality guys joining our bullpen soon and hopefully Rafael Soriano soon," Wren said. "It's just taken a little longer than we had hoped."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.