Beachy wins fifth-starter spot for Braves
Top prospect Minor sent to Triple-A Gwinnett to gain seasoning
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Braves will begin the 2011 season with Brandon Beachy as their fifth starter, allowing Mike Minor a chance to gain some more experience with Triple-A Gwinnett.
But their plan could be altered depending upon the status of Jair Jurrjens, who exited Thursday afternoon's start against the Blue Jays with discomfort in his right side. The Braves said his exit was precautionary.
If Jurrjens is unable to make his first regular-season start on April 4 in Milwaukee, the Braves could fill his rotation spot with Minor or Rodrigo Lopez, who was signed to a Minor League contract in January to provide insurance in the event that one of the top four starters was injured.
The Braves have indicated they wouldn't be comfortable with a rotation that includes both Minor and Beachy, each of whom has limited experience as starters at the professional level.
But they have seen enough from Beachy over the past couple weeks to gain the sense that it's in their best interest to have him begin this season as the fifth starter in Atlanta.
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"We just feel Brandon gives us a better chance to win right now," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "It was a tough decision to make."
Shortly after Minor was informed on Thursday morning that he had been optioned to Gwinnett, Beachy began receiving congratulatory exchanges from some of his Braves teammates.
"Obviously, I'm happy about it," Beachy said. "I'm excited about the opportunity. Hopefully, we can get a few wins and I can be a big contributor to help us reach our goal."
The Braves are still very excited about the future of Minor, who was taken with the seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. But the 23-year-old left-hander has shown over the past six weeks that he could benefit from a chance to continue developing his curveball and changeup.
"We just told him to go down and stay ready, because you never know when you're going to be needed," Wren said. "We still like him a lot and look forward to seeing him further develop."
Beachy and Minor traveled different paths on their way to arriving in camp as the favorites to win the fifth spot in the rotation.
Beachy was given a $20,000 bonus after he signed as an undrafted free agent while playing the Virginia Valley Summer League in 2008. His collegiate pitching experience was primarily limited to those times his coaches at Indiana Wesleyan pulled him away from his usual position at third base to serve as the closer.
Minor received a $2.42 million signing bonus after being selected as a first-rounder. He spent three years as one of Vanderbilt's top starters and pitched effectively for Team USA during the summer months.
Having made that kind of investment in Minor, the Braves certainly didn't want to rush him to the Majors in the manner that they were forced to do last year, after Kris Medlen had to undergo season-ending Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. The young left-hander has totaled just 175 innings at the professional level, and 40 of those were in the Majors last year.
Minor went 3-2 with a 5.98 ERA in the nine appearances (eight starts) with the Braves over the final two months of last season. He pitched effectively in his first four starts, even setting a franchise rookie record with 12 strikeouts against the Cubs on Aug. 22. But as he neared the end of his first full professional season, he showed fatigue and struggled to find consistency with his secondary pitches.
"It's going to be good," Minor said. "I just wanted an answer, and today I got it. Now, I can focus on getting ready for the season at Triple-A. It's going to be good for me to work on my curveball and hopefully go back up when I have all three of my pitches going and [am] able to spot them up."
As Minor continued to get a feel for his curveball and changeup this year, Beachy slowly became the favorite to be named the fifth starter.
Beachy made a strong impression when he limited the Nationals to one hit over three scoreless innings on March 4; he drew even more support last Saturday after limiting the Tigers to one hit in five scoreless innings.
"I've improved over the course of [Spring Training]," Beachy said. "I've gotten better and gotten more command each time. I'm really happy with the way I've been able to throw the slider so far in this camp. When I came into camp, I didn't know how much I'd be able to throw it or how much I'd be able to control it. But I've been really pleased with the way I've been able to throw that."
Beachy got a taste of the Majors last year, when the Braves called him out of the instructional league to make an emergency start for the injured Jurrjens in front of a hostile Philadelphia crowd in the midst of a tight pennant race.
After pitching effectively into the fifth inning that evening, Beachy continued to impress in his final two starts of the regular season. He limited the Nationals to two runs in five innings on Sept. 26 and the Phillies to two runs in 5 2/3 innings on Oct. 1.
Still, Beachy arrived in camp knowing that he would have to battle hard to win the fifth spot. At the same time, he was in much better position than a year earlier, when he never even had the opportunity to pitch in a Spring Training game.
"To be in this situation to break [camp] with the team, it's awesome," Beachy said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.