Atlanta Braves: Bullpen Issues Continue with Injuries to Lefties

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMay 19, 2013

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 23:  Jonny Venters #39 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the seventh inning of the interleague game at Fenway Park on June 23, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves were handed a double dose of bad injury-related news this week as Jonny Venters' second Tommy John surgery was announced and Eric O'Flaherty was put on the disabled list with a torn UCL.

Over the last few seasons, both left-handed relievers were heavily relied on in the Braves' chase for the playoffs. 

While the duo were pitching in a combined 293 games over the last two seasons, the concerns about the longevity of both players' have been ever-present. 

Both Venters and O'Flaherty have provided the Braves with some superb work in relief and they formed one of the most feared bullpen combinations in the majors with closer Craig Kimbrel.

But with both relievers out for the foreseeable future, the criticism of how the two pitchers were used can be heard even more than it was in the past. 

Throwing a reliever over 60 games in just one season can do some damage, especially combined with two seasons of stress-filled situations on the mound in the latter innings. 

Manager Fredi Gonzalez now faces a situation that he created himself. His two best left-handed relievers are most likely out for the season and now he has to find capable relievers to fill that void. 

Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin will assume the "next man up" mentality for now. And the addition of veteran left-hander Joe Beimel, who is on the road to recovery from Tommy John surgery himself, will help the ball club if he reaches the majors. 

There is also be some concern about the right arm of Kimbrel, who has appeared in 142 games over the last two seasons and 16 games already this season.

If Kimbrel begins to experience arm issues, the World Series and even playoff hopes of the Braves could go down the drain in a heartbeat. 

For now, Braves fans can focus on the terrific job that Gearrin and Avilan have done in relief so far this season. But if they fold under pressure in the seventh and eighth inning roles in front of Kimbrel, the criticism will grow around Gonzalez on how he managed his bullpen over the past few seasons. 

Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

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