ATLANTA — Brandon Beachy did his best to forget what happened at the end of last season. It all came back to him last weekend, when the Braves pitcher was in St. Louis visiting his college roommate.
Everywhere he looked, there were shirts, caps and other gear celebrating the Cardinals’ improbable World Series championship – a title that came at Atlanta’s expense.
“They’re lucky we lost that last game,” Beachy said, managing a weak smile.
Beachy and a handful of teammates were back at Turner Field on Monday to begin two weeks of informal workouts before spring training in Florida.
There’s no way to sugarcoat what happened at the end of last season. The Braves blew it, becoming the first franchise to squander an eight-game lead in September with a playoff spot on the line.
The Cardinals clinched the NL wild card on the last day of the regular season, then won two playoff series before taking the championship with a thrilling seven-game win over the Texas Rangers in the World Series.
For Atlanta, it’s time to move on. “On Jan. 1, the calendar turned over to 2012,” pitching coach Roger McDowell said. “So, it is a new year. Like any other experience you go through – good, bad or indifferent – you learn from it and move on.”
Atlanta will go into the season with largely the same cast.
Pitcher Derek Lowe, a huge disappointment, was traded to Cleveland (though the Braves are still paying $10 million of his salary). Hitting coach Larry Parrish was let go after one season. Otherwise, not much changed – which sparked grumbling from fans.
From all indications, pitching will again be the team’s strong point, assuming everyone is healthy. McDowell insists there are no pressing concerns outside of 16-game winner Tim Hudson, who underwent surgery in late November to repair a herniated disc in his back. He might get a bit of a late start, but the Braves appear to have more than enough depth to get by if their senior starter misses the first few weeks of the season.
Starters Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, who battled injuries in the second half of the season, should be ready to go on the first day of spring training, according to McDowell.
“I feel like I’m a brand new kid,” said Jurrjens, who has recovered from a knee injury. “I’m happy I’m here, and I’ll be trying to help the team as much as I can.”
The Braves were able to at least consider the idea off trading Jurrjens because they have an abundance of young starters. Two of them — right-handers Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran — got in some throwing and running Monday, when there was a bit of a chill in the air but the temperature climbed toward 60 degrees under a gorgeous blue sky.
Delgado started seven games in the heat of a playoff race and showed enormous poise for someone only 21 years old. Teheran just turned 21 last week, but he’s already pitched five games in the big leagues. Hanson and Beachy are 25. Left-hander Mike Minor is 24.
The bullpen wore down late in the season, but closer Craig Kimbrel (a unanimous choice for NL rookie of the year after saving 46 games) and set-up relievers Jonny Venters (1.84 ERA) and Eric O’Flaherty (0.98) are as effective as any group in the big leagues.
Kris Medlen, who missed most of last season recovering from major elbow surgery, adds another promising arm in the bullpen and could take some of the load off the Big Three.
“We have a good team. We have a good pitching staff,” McDowell said. “We’ll move on.”