Posted on April 17, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
Outside of the dozen players the New York Yankees currently have on the Injured List, the Atlanta Braves are the first team to suffer a significant injury loss this season. The Braves announced on Wednesday that closer Arodys Vizcaino will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. With the Braves being one of four teams set to battle it out for the NL East crown this season, the loss of Vizcaino is likely a serious blow to their chances.
Vizcaino has made just four appearances this season. His last outing was on April 7, although the Braves didn’t put him on the IL until April 14. Clearly, the team thought it was something relatively minor that would clear up. However, Vizcaino made the choice to have surgery to remove scar tissue and address the problem in his labrum.
“For a long time, every time he swung his arm, there was some discomfort,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker. “I think he feels good he finally got it taken care of and now he can get on with it. When he’s right, he’s one of the best there is.”
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It’s worth noting that Vizcaino also battled shoulder problems last season. He went on the IL in late June with shoulder inflammation but returned in short order. However, Vizcaino was sidelined again in mid-July and didn’t return until the middle of September. He was able to finish the regular season and then made two appearances for Atlanta during the postseason.
Alas, those shoulder problems have returned and now the Braves are without their closer. Vizcaino has converted 30 saves for Atlanta over the past two seasons. He appeared to have the closer’s job locked down for the long-term until his shoulder problems popped up last season. The Braves will now have to find a way to rework their bullpen, knowing that Vizcaino isn’t coming back.
At first glance, A.J. Minter is likely to take over as Atlanta’s closer. He is the only pitcher to record a save this year aside from Vizcaino. However, he also has a 9.64 ERA after six appearances. As a team, the Braves are in the bottom-5 in the National League in bullpen ERA. It certainly doesn’t help matters that Jonny Venters was also placed on the IL earlier this week. The Braves are also waiting for Darren O’Day to return from injury. But his return is anything but imminent after making just one appearance during spring training.
Naturally, the loss of Vizcaino will draw whispers connecting the Braves to free agent closer Craig Kimbrel. Atlanta has been loosely connected to Kimbrel during his extended free agency saga, but there’s been no indication the sides have ever been close on a deal. With an obvious need at the back end of the bullpen, the Braves are perhaps under a little more pressure to sign Kimbrel. Of course, losing Vizcaino to injury doesn’t free up any money in the budget to help them go after Kimbrel.
“I think it goes without saying that we’re going to do what we can [to improve the bullpen] both internally and externally,” commented Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos.
Without Vizcaino, the ceiling for Atlanta’s bullpen this season has dropped considerably. The Braves still have some good relievers, but their bullpen will likely be average at best over the course of the season, barring additions from outside the organization. In what figures to be a competitive, four-team race in the NL East, losing their closer could be difficult to overcome.