A surprising twist this afternoon in the battle for the Atlanta Braves opening day bullpen. This twist came via these two tweets from AJC beat writer David O'Brien, quoting Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez:
#Braves Fredi said 4 (CMartinez, Varvaro, Carpenter, Obispo) are vying for last bullpen spot, presuming Walden (back) ready. If not, 2 spots— David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) March 21, 2013
Gearrin has a spot in #Braves bullpen spot, for those wondering.— David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) March 21, 2013
All spring we had assumed that Cristhian Martinez had a secure spot in the Braves bullpen. He's out of minor league options, meaning the Braves would have to pass him through waivers to send him to the minors, and he has pitched well as the long reliever the last two years.
Also out of options is Anthony Varvaro, who we thought was competing with Cory Gearrin and Luis Avilan for the final two spots. Now it seems that both Gearrin and Avilan have secured spots, and instead the club is choosing between the two out of options guys as well as David Carpenter, who has not had a good spring, and Wirfin Obispo, who was delayed with visa issues, but has pitched well since then.
Carpenter seems to be out of this competition, unless we want to re-Proctor the pen (no thanks). Obispo could sneak in there, but has not pitched much above AA, and is likely out. That leaves Varvaro and Martinez. On the surface their springs look quite similar; Varvaro has given up 5 earned runs in 9 innings, Martinez has given up 6 earned runs in 8.1 innings. But that's not the full story.
Varvaro has had 8 scoreless innings this spring punctuated by one outing in which he gave up 5 runs on 7 hits. Martinez, on the other hand, has been tagged for earned runs in two of his outings, and has given up hits in all but one appearance. In a minor league game three days ago, Martinez also allowed 3 runs on 5 hits in 3 innings.
It certainly seems like Varvaro is having a more consistent spring and would be the better option, but that would leave the bullpen without a defined "long man." Though Gearrin and Avilan could stretch out to two or three innings if necessary. Unless something changes I see Varvaro making the team over Martinez based on how they've pitched this spring. The Braves would risk losing Martinez to another team if they don't add him to the 25-man roster.
Of course, all of this is assuming that Jordan Walden is healthy enough to start the year with the team. With more than a week of spring training left, he should be ready. It will be interesting to see how this battle develops over the next week.