Braves expect top relievers to be ready
Soriano, Moylan, Gonzalez have all battled recent arm injuries
VIERA, Fla. -- Rafael Soriano's right side is bothering him and Mike Gonzalez's ERA is rising. But the Braves don't currently seem too concerned about the possibility that they'll begin the season without these top two relievers at full strength.
In fact, Gonzalez might have actually displayed too much strength while allowing the Nationals five hits and three earned runs during the sixth inning of Wednesday night's 6-3 loss at Space Coast Stadium.
"Gonzo threw the best he's thrown all spring," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "But he overthrew the breaking ball just a little bit. It was good to see the velocity he had tonight. He's going to be fine. It's there."
Where Soriano is when the season begins remains anybody's best guess. He displayed some alarming body language while recording three strikeouts and allowing two earned runs in one inning against the Pirates on Tuesday night. Initially, there was reason to believe his laborsome outing, during which his fastball maxed out at 90 mph, was a product of the breathing problems that he's encountered since reporting to camp with an upper respiratory infection.
But just before the Braves were leaving for Viera on Wednesday afternoon, he informed head athletic trainer Jeff Porter that he was feeling some discomfort in his left side. Until they further examine him on Thursday, the club is holding out hope that the veteran reliever is dealing with the kind of slight oblique strain that bothered Chipper Jones for less than a week earlier this month.
If this proves to be the case, Soriano could certainly be available on April 5, when the Braves open the season against the Phillies.
"We don't have a full diagnosis or report right now," Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
Since making a career-high 71 appearances in 2007 and earning a two-year, $9 million contract, Soriano has primarily been injured. He battled elbow discomfort while making just 14 appearances last year and had the ulnar nerve in his right elbow transposed in August.
So far, Soriano hasn't provided any indication that his elbow has been a problem.
Gonzalez, who hadn't allowed an earned run in his previous five appearances, was disappointed with the results and thrilled about the fact that he was able to routinely throw 92-mph fastballs. The 30-year-old closer has said that he's always had trouble creating the adrenaline necessary to display his maximum velocity during Spring Training.
Still as his fastball routinely rested between 88-90 mph over the past couple of weeks, there was reason to wonder if Gonzalez had regained the strength that he'd had since undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament transplant surgery in May 2007. But this outing provided further indication that he might indeed gain greater life on his fastball as he moves closer toward the start of the regular season.
"I don't know how to explain it," Gonzalez said. "It's a different story between being here and being at Turner Field. So I'm good. I feel good."
Less than a year removed from the Tommy John surgical procedure that usually requires a full year of rehab, right-hander Peter Moylan definitely feels better than anybody could have expected at this point. While recording two strikeouts and issuing a walk against the Nationals, he produced another pain-free outing that provides more reason to believe that he'll be in the Atlanta bullpen when the regular season begins.
"He's been dynamite every time out," Cox said of Moylan, who hasn't allowed a run in his past four appearances.
Wednesday night's appearance was the first one Moylan has made with less than five days of rest. The Australian right-hander, who had previously pitched on Saturday, will spend the remainder of the exhibition season attempting to prove that he can pitch with just two days of rest.
Even if the Braves decide to place Moylan in their bullpen at the start of the season, they won't use him on back-to-back days. Consequently, they'll likely begin the season with eight relievers on their roster.
Because Tom Glavine will likely be on the disabled list until his first scheduled start on April 18, the Braves would still begin the season with a 12-man pitching staff.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.