Saito could be ready to pitch this weekend
MRI showed no structural damage in reliever's shoulder
PHILADELPHIA -- When Takashi Saito was forced to exit Friday night's appearance against the Mets with right shoulder discomfort, Braves manager Bobby Cox was among those who gained the sense that the veteran reliever might not be able to pitch again this year.
But the Braves received some encouraging news Monday afternoon when they learned an MRI exam performed in Atlanta showed no structural damage in Saito's shoulder. It appears the discomfort might have been caused by tendinitis.
Saito will rejoin the club Tuesday and possibly be ready to pitch this weekend against the Nationals. The 40-year-old right-handed reliever may be cleared to throw a bullpen as early as Wednesday.
"I was prepared for the possibility that that would be it for him," Cox said. "But he's really a tough guy. He's telling the trainers all the time, 'Whatever it takes to get me out there, get me out there. I'll worry about next year, next year.' He's got a great attitude."
When Saito's right shoulder began bothering him during the All-Star break, the Braves began carefully monitoring his workload. In the 16 appearances he's made since July 30, he has worked 15 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. In the process, he has limited opponents to a .158 batting average and recorded 20 strikeouts, while issuing just one walk.
Kimbrel relishes first big league save
PHILADELPHIA -- Braves manager Bobby Cox provided a glimpse toward the future Sunday, when he rested Billy Wagner and gave Craig Kimbrel a chance to notch the first save of his young career.
Extending his recent dominant run and further proving why he may serve as Atlanta's closer next year, Kimbrel notched three strikeouts in a scoreless ninth inning that capped a 6-3 win over the Mets. The inning might have been perfect had Ike Davis' infield single not struck Kimbrel's right foot.
"It was really cool," Kimbrel said. "It's something I've been working for for a long time and I finally got it."
When Kimbrel escaped Spring Training without allowing a run, there was already speculation that he could serve as the club's future closer. With Wagner still planning to retire at the end of this year, it looks like this future could come as soon as next year.
In the five appearances he's made since ending his season with Triple-A Gwinnett, Kimbrel has worked five scoreless innings, allowed just one hit and recorded 12 strikeouts without issuing a walk.
"He can dominate," Cox said. "There's no doubt about that."
Cox: Beachy best option on short notice
PHILADELPHIA -- When asked if he had any other choice other than to start Brandon Beachy in place of the injured Jair Jurrjens on Monday night, Braves manager Bobby Cox said, "Not for me."
Obviously, Atlanta could have opted to ask Kenshin Kawakami to make his second emergency start of the month. His first one proved disastrous when he started in place of Derek Lowe on Sept. 3 and allowed the Marlins five earned runs in three innings.
"Kawakami hasn't pitched in a long time," Cox said. "This kid [Beachy] is better prepared than he would be going out there right now."
Considering that Beachy also hadn't started since completing six scoreless innings for Triple-A on Sept. 3, Cox seemed to be characteristically protecting Kawakami.
But this seems to provide further reason to wonder if Kawakami will still factor into the Braves' plans for the 2011 season -- the final year of his three-year, $23 million contract.
Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor and Jurrjens are projected to once again fill the rotation next year. Even if Atlanta trades one of these pitchers, it could choose to fill the vacant spot with Beachy instead of Kawakami.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.