- Though the Braves lost Ender Inciarte to injury this weekend, it’s not all doom and gloom out of the Big Peach–as noted in an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Gabriel Burns, sturdy shortstop performer Dansby Swanson is ramping up baseball activities. The 25-year-old infielder has missed 22 games this year due to an incidental heel injury but was seen taking ground balls before Saturday’s game. Before being hurt, Swanson was putting together his most complete full-season at the plate, with 17 home runs and a 102 wRC+ in 100 games. His injury was partly responsible for the team’s signing of defensive specialist Adeiny Hechavarria, but the team would eagerly clear a place for Swanson at the team table if he were able to return by late August as currently expected. Atlanta holds a 4.5 game lead in the race for the NL East pennant.
Following a string of earlier reports regarding the hamstring injury sustained by Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte yesterday, the team has officially placed him on the 10-day injured list. Gabriel Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shares that Inciarte is expected to be out 4-6 weeks after an MRI scan revealed a sprain of the Grade 2 variety (link). Outfielder Adam Duvall has been recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to take Inciarte’s place on the active roster.
2019 has been a hard-luck season for Inciarte so far: it was just four weeks ago that the defensively gifted outfielder was activated after missing 55 games with an injury to the lumbar region in his torso. Since that activation, Inciarte had rebounded with a .293 batting average and 15 RBI in 90 plate appearances. Though his contact-and-defense profile has never been a glamorous one, Inciarte’s absence is sure to cause frustration for a Braves team already thoroughly bitten by injury bugs.
While the Braves hold a 4.5 game lead on their NL East counterparts, the team has had a hard time keeping key players on the field in recent weeks. After injuries to Nick Markakis and Austin Riley, Inciarte’s month-plus departure will reduce Atlanta’s grass patrol to Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Joyce, Charlie Culberson, Rafael Ortega, and the just-promoted Duvall–a rather thin crew after the talented sophomore from Venezuela.
Braves fans may have hoped that an Inciarte injury would, at least on the bright side, result in the promotion of one of Cristian Pache or Drew Waters, but Atlanta will turn instead to the veteran Duvall as a depth fill-in. After being acquired from the Reds last year, the Braves tendered a $2.875MM salary to the battle-tested slugger this offseason. He’s spent the majority of 2019 in Triple-A but has been a roughly league-average hitter when called upon in 19 MLB games this year (.250/.297/.500 slash line and 99 wRC+). Inciarte’s injury will also precipitate a temporary move back to center field for Acuna Jr., per Burns’ report.
10:02pm: Inciarte’s injury does indeed look “significant,” Mark Bowman of MLB.com tweets. The Braves will further evaluate him Saturday.
7:17pm: Already facing mounting health challenges, the Braves are now left with another potentially significant injury. Center fielder Ender Inciarte was removed from tonight’s game with what the team is labeling a right hamstring injury, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was among those to cover on Twitter.
After a slow start at the plate, Inciarte suffered a lumbar strain that robbed him of a significant chunk of the season. While his status with the club once seemed in question, Inciarte has been on fire at the plate since returning. He’s now a critical part of the team’s outfield mix with Nick Markakis and Austin Riley on the shelf (and the latter having endured a lengthy slump).
While we won’t know more about Inciarte’s status until he has undergone further medical review, it’s quite worrisome to see him limp off with a hammy problem. There are just six weeks left in the regular season, with the postseason beckoning thereafter, so there’s not much time to give a significant muscle injury adequate rest. The club will have to hope that it’s just a low-grade strain.
Earlier today, the Braves demoted Adam Duvall and Johan Camargo, both of whom have struggled at the plate in recent weeks. The former seems like an obvious replacement option — that’s the entire reason he was tendered a contract and kept all season long, after all — and he’ll be able to come right back from Gwinnett without waiting the usual ten days if Inciarte hits the injured list. But that would leave a suboptimal outfield group to supplement Ronald Acuna, with Duvall potentially joining Matt Joyce, Charlie Culberson, and Rafael Ortega as options.
If Inciarte ends up being diagnosed with a significant injury, it’s likely the Braves will end up taking a hard look at the waiver wire for upgrades. Left-handed-hitting speed demon Billy Hamilton did just come available today; he carries a generally similar profile to Inciarte, albeit with much lesser abilities with the bat. Some will no doubt raise the call for top prospects Christian Pache and Drew Waters. It’d certainly be a bold and fascinating gambit for the team to promote either of the talented twenty-year-olds, though there’s no real indication whether that will seriously be considered.
Parsons, 26, converted to a full-time relief role this season and has had success at limiting earned runs. But that only tells a limited portion of the story.
In limited MLB action, Parsons has had trouble limiting walks (7.6 per nine), getting swings and misses (6.9% swinging-strike rate), and generating grounders (as he always has in the minors). That’s a recipe for disaster, which explains why the Braves haven’t used him more in the bigs despite a 3.52 ERA in 15 1/3 innings this year.
The Braves are slated to make a few notable roster tweaks, according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (via Twitter). The club will ink shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who was recently released by the Mets, as had been suggested earlier today.
The addition of Hechavarria is filled with interesting angles. For one thing, he had until just recently played for the division-rival Mets, who cut him loose when they had the opportunity to add Joe Panik. New York will continue to cover any further guarantees under Hechavarria’s contract, less a pro-rated portion of the league minimum for the time he spends in the majors in Atlanta.
It also marks the end of the Braves’ patience with Camargo, whose season-long struggles with the bat and more recent travails with the glove have finally reached a breaking point. His roster spot was said to be safe, but the club obviously decided upon a change when the opportunity arose to add Hechavarria after he cleared release waivers.
Hechavarria will now pair with Charlie Culberson to line up at shortstop for the foreseeable future. That pairing is keeping the seat warm for the injured Dansby Swanson, whose timetable remains unknown.
There’s also intrigue surrounding Duvall, who has received scant MLB opportunity this year despite a $2,875,000 salary. His presence on the 40-man roster seemed fortuitous when the club needed to replace Nick Markakis and Austin Riley — all the more so when Duvall socked five long balls in his first six games back in the bigs. But the good times didn’t last. Over his past 48 plate appearances, Duvall has just five hits (one for extra bases) with 18 strikeouts.
It’s all but certain that some additional near-term roster maneuvering will take place in Atlanta. Right now, the team is rolling with only three bench pieces, which is likely only temporary. And there’s a distinct imbalance in the outfield, which currently features three left-handed hitters (Ender Inciarte, Matt Joyce, Rafael Ortega) alongside everyday superstar Ronald Acuna. Perhaps Culberson will see some action in left field when an opposing southpaw takes the hill, with Hechavarria handling short, but it’d be optimal to have a committed right-handed-hitting outfield piece.
The Braves are contemplating a move to sign veteran shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). Hechavarria evidently cleared release waivers earlier this afternoon.
It’s not surprising that Hechavarria was not claimed. He was earning at a fairly hefty $3MM rate. And his deal included big bonuses ($1MM apiece at 100 and 150 days on the active roster) that were close at hand when he was cut loose by the Mets. A claiming team would’ve stepped into those obligations.
The 30-year-old did not hit much in limited action in New York. Over 151 plate appearances, he carried a .204/.252/.359 slash with five home runs. Hechavarria has yet to finish a season in shouting distance of league-average offensive production and owns a lifetime .252/.288/.346 batting line.
That said, Hechavarria has long been regarded as a high-end infield defender. He’d help the Braves fill in for the injured Dansby Swanson. Though Charlie Culberson and Johan Camargo are both capable of playing shortstop, neither has Hechavarria’s reputation for sterling glovework. Camargo has also endured a brutal season at the plate.
- The Braves plan to stick with infielder Johan Camargo despite his considerable struggles at the plate and with the glove, writes Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Camargo’s playing time has increased with Dansby Swanson shelved, but the 25-year-old has turned in a career-worst .222/.268/.344 batting line through 236 plate appearances this season. And while he’s previously rated as a standout defender at third base and a passable option at shortstop, he’s had some glaring defensive miscues this season (including six errors in 320 total innings of defense after making just 13 in nearly 1100 innings a year ago). Camargo’s hard-hit rate, exit velocity and launch angle have all dipped in 2019 — so much so that Statcast doesn’t feel he’s been the victim of much poor luck. (His .262 wOBA only narrowly trails his .268 xwOBA.) Both manager Brian Snitker and GM Alex Anthopoulos acknowledged the struggles. “I don’t know that anyone knows what the answer is,” said Anthopoulos when discussing the root of Camargo’s struggles.
The partially torn right LCL that sent Braves third baseman/corner outfielder Austin Riley to the injured list last week will not require surgery, Mark Bowman of MLB.com was among those to report. Now that his season will continue, Riley’s hoping to start a minor league rehab assignment two weeks from now, according to Bowman.
The 22-year-old Riley joined the Braves in the middle of May, at which point he ranked as one of baseball’s 50 best prospects. Riley, whose promotion came in response to an injury to outfielder Ender Inciarte, began his career in excellent fashion. He owned an OPS upward of .900 as of the end of June, though Riley has come crashing to earth more recently. He’s now a .242/.294/.504 hitter with 17 home runs through his first 255 plate appearances, during which he has fanned in 35.3 percent of trips and walked in just over 5 percent.
With Josh Donaldson holding down third and right fielder Nick Markakis on the IL, the Riley-less Braves have been going with Adam Duvall in left, Inciarte in center and superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. in right. Inciarte has performed well dating back to his return July 18, while Duvall’s numbers have plummeted since a red-hot start after the Braves promoted him from Triple-A Gwinnett toward the end of last month.
The Braves’ infield, meanwhile, has been making do without shortstop Dansby Swanson since July 27 because of a heel issue. There’s still no timetable for his return, per Bowman, while David O’Brien of The Athletic adds that he’s not able to do much of anything in terms of baseball activities at this point. Doctors have told Swanson the injury isn’t something he’d be able to play through. It’s especially unfortunate considering the former No. 1 overall pick was enjoying a career season before he landed on the shelf. The 25-year-old has slashed .265/.330/.468 (103 wRC+) with 17 homers and seven steals over 431 trips to the plate.
Atlanta has replaced Swanson with a combination of Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson. Camargo has endured a dreadful year after what looked like a breakout 2018, while Culberson’s still-impressive output has declined since he took on a greater role. Nevertheless, the Braves continue to hold a six-game lead in the National League East.
Ortega, 28, joined the Atlanta organization on a minor-league pact before the season. The left-handed-hitter, who has appeared in parts of three prior MLB campaigns, carries a .285/.373/.524 batting line (126 wRC+) in 493 plate appearances at Triple-A.
It’s not clear whether Ortega is seen as a potentially permanent solution or a temporary fill-in, but his promotion reflects the fact that the Braves are in a bit of an outfield pickle. The club lost Nick Markakis just before the trade deadline and isn’t sure whether or when he’ll return. Having foregone the chance to add a significant player from outside the organization, the club is now left with what is has on hand and what it can procure through the limitations of the August acquisition period.
At one point, it seemed the Braves were set with a three-man outfield unit featuring Markakis, superstar Ronald Acuna, and rookie Austin Riley. Many even felt the club should jettison Ender Inciarte when he returned from the injured list. As it turns out, Markakis and Riley are now shelved with injuries; the latter had struggled mightily for a lengthy stretch before hitting the IL.
For a moment, it looked as if Adam Duvall would be the solution. He started with a six-game hot streak but has been dreadful in his ten ensuing games. There’s still hope that he can contribute, but it’s far from a certainty. Much the same holds for utilityman Johan Camargo, who has scuffled since a hot July. The Braves might’ve utilized Charlie Culberson in the outfield, but he’s filling in at short for the injured Dansby Swanson. Matt Joyce is still on the roster — indeed, he’s in the lineup tonight — but the club has elected to utilize him mostly as a bench bat. (He has played just 64 1/3 innings in the field.)
Despite the increasing uncertainty, the Braves’ lineup has had no trouble pushing runs across the plate, having outscored all but five other teams in the past thirty days. And the club has managed to stay out in front of the trailing pack in the division. While the Nats, Mets, and (if they can gather themselves) Phillies are threats to mount a charge, they’re still decided underdogs. But the Braves can’t sleep on their lead — six games, entering play today — and will obviously also want to fine tune their outfield mix (among other question areas) in advance of the postseason.
The Braves felt they had sorted out their bullpen issues with a trio of trade-deadline acquisitions, but it hasn’t turned out that way. Jeff Schultz of The Athletic (subscription link) recently examined the situation, featuring the thoughts of GM Alex Anthopoulos.
More than anything, the Atlanta roster architect suggested, the difficulties are simply a rough section of the sample-size roller-coaster. “I just think it’s a two-week period and guys aren’t performing at their best,” he says. Anthopoulos says that the club would not “just ignore it” if a player was not performing over a longer stretch, but suggested the organization doesn’t yet feel that point has been reached.
It’d obviously be foolish for the Braves to give up on their three new relief arms — Shane Greene, Chris Martin, and Mark Melancon. Greene was solid all year long before he became the club’s key acquisition. The other two have produced sparkling K/BB and groundball numbers in Atlanta. It’s equally difficult to ignore just how rough the results have been. Through a dozen cumulative frames, each of those three hurlers has allowed more than an earned run for every inning thrown.
“We’ll continue to work and do what we can to get everybody on track,” says Anthopoulos. “But at this point, we’ll ride it out.”
As Schultz rightly notes, there isn’t much of an alternative now that the calendar has flipped to August. But the org does have a few potential avenues to get better. Waiver claims are perhaps the most promising. We’ve seen the Reds add multiple big-league pieces through that mechanism — including former Atlanta righty Kevin Gausman.
True, the Braves won’t likely land any players that look like especially good values. Should such an asset hit the wire, another pitching-needy organization with a higher waiver priority will likely snap it up. But shedding Gausman did draw down the Atlanta payroll by about $2.8MM. That bit of good fortune could theoretically allow the organization to look past value concepts and take a more aggressive waiver-wire stance, particularly since some other contenders may be tapped out financially. Whether a worthwhile opportunity will arise remains to be seen.