EDIT: Eric O’Flaherty has reportedly sustained a torn UCL and will be seeing Dr. James Andrews for likely surgery. The following article was written prior to this announcement.
In a very troubling move for the Atlanta Braves bullpen, the club placed set-up man Eric O’Flaherty on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday with what they are calling “left elbow inflammation”. Cory Rasmus was called up from triple-A Gwinnett to take O’Flaherty’s roster spot, but this is a significant blow to an already decimated bullpen.
O’Flaherty was the last remaining piece of the “dream” set-up trio that included Jonny Venters (Tommy John surgery) and Jordan Walden (shoulder inflammation) and he’s been tremendous with the Braves since arriving in 2009. O’Flaherty has posted sub-2.00 ERA’s in each of the last two seasons and was well on his way to another strong year, having thrown 18 innings with a 2.50 ERA in 2013.
It is important to note that there is no set timetable for the return of O’Flaherty as of this moment, and there will likely be no further clarification until his MRI results return. Elbow injuries are nothing to mess around with for pitchers, and from the moment that his left elbow was referenced, Tommy John surgery popped into the minds of many pundits.
Cory Rasmus will join the Braves bullpen in his stead, and Rasmus has the potential to be a high-end reliever at some point in the future. He has a strikeout rate over 9.00 in each of the past two seasons and while he’s had some control problems (walk-rate over 4.00), there have been comparisons to Jonny Venters concerning his bullpen conversion.
In the coming days, it is assumed that Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin will be the “primary” set-up men, and this is the first time in recent memory where the Braves bullpen has been a diagnosed weakness. There is very little depth available with Christhian Martinez and Luis Ayala also on the shelf, and it will be critical to get quality innings ahead of Craig Kimbrel. Stay tuned to see how the patchwork bullpen performs, but at the moment, the picture isn’t a pretty one.