As the Atlanta Braves prepare for an important three-game series in Washington, one difference in their team is quite apparent.
The primary Atlanta relievers are pitching significantly less than they did last season, when closer Craig Kimbrel and left-hander Jonny Venters wore down during the team's September collapse.
Although the Braves’ rotation ranks only 12th in the National League in innings pitched, manager Fredi Gonzalez is using Kimbrel, Venters and lefty Eric O’Flaherty more judiciously this season.
Granted, the Braves played a club-record 26 extra-inning games last season. But consider the number of appearances, innings and pitches for the Braves’ big three through the first 121 games of 2011 and ’12, as researched by STATS LLC:
Kimbrel: 60 games, 58.2 innings, 987 pitches
O’Flaherty: 58 games, 54 innings, 888 pitches
Venters: 65 games, 68.2 innings, 996 pitches
Kimbrel: 45 games, 45 innings, 673 pitches
O’Flaherty: 48 games, 42.2 innings, 630 pitches
Venters: 50 games, 41.2 innings, 733 pitches
Venters was on the disabled list from July 5-21 with a left elbow impingement, but Kimbrel and O’Flaherty have been healthy this season.
All three should be fresh for the Nationals. All three should be fresh for September.
— Ken Rosenthal