MLB approves replacing Wagner with Saito
Injured Braves closer now ineligible to return until World Series
ATLANTA -- Major League Baseball approved the Braves' petition to put Takashi Saito on their National League Division Series roster in place of injured closer Billy Wagner.
"Saito says he feels great, and we're going to go with him," manager Bobby Cox said.
The Braves were quite certain that Wagner would miss at least the remainder of this NLDS with the left oblique injury that he suffered during the 10th inning of Friday's Game 2 victory over the Giants. But before making a transaction that would prohibit them from putting the Wagner on the NL Championship Series roster, they wanted to evaluate him one more time Sunday.
But the Braves' medical staff quickly determined that the 39-year-old reliever likely wouldn't recover in time to even be available at any point of the NLCS.
"It was so bad today that there was no way that he could possibly be ready for the next round," Cox said. "Maybe the World Series."
Saito was originally left off the NLDS roster because of concerns about his right shoulder, which began proving more troublesome in a Sept. 17 appearance. The 40-year-old reliever was rusty when he returned Oct. 2, yielding two hits and issuing three walks while facing just six Phillies batters.
Saito's shoulder has shown some steady improvement, and he provided some encouragement when he faced live batters in an instructional league game Friday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
"There are no limitations," Cox said. "It's just the fact that he has thrown just one inning in the instructional league. All the reports were good. We'd like to get him in any type of game, I guess. But we may have to pitch him in a real important spot."
Wagner, who has never wavered from his plans to retire at the end of this season, is still holding out hope that he would be available if the Braves reach the World Series.
In Wagner's absence, Cox said he plans to use a closer-by-committee approach that would employ Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Peter Moylan and possibly Kyle Farnsworth, who enhanced his stock while notching the final five outs in Friday's victory.
Though they are rookies, Kimbrel and Venters appear to be the most likely candidates to serve as the Braves' closer for the remainder of the postseason and at the start of the 2011 season.
Venters posted a 1.13 ERA through his first 58 appearances and a 4.66 ERA in his final 21 appearances. While allowing just two hits in the 2 2/3 scoreless innings in this NLDS, the rookie southpaw has seemingly benefited from the three days that separated the regular season and the start of the postseason.
Kimbrel showed great poise while tossing two scoreless innings after the Braves produced their game-tying three-run eighth inning Friday. The hard-throwing right-hander has recorded 28 strikeouts and kept opponents scoreless in the 14 innings he has completed since rejoining the Atlanta roster on Sept. 9.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.