The Atlanta Braves shouldn't have needed extra pitching this year. Ben Sheets shouldn't have been looking for a team this year. It's pretty amazing the two found each other, and things got off to a great start on Sunday.
Ben Sheets is back, striking out five in six scoreless innings against the New York Mets while making his first big-league start in nearly two years. He left the game in line for the win, allowing just two hits and a walk in 88 pitches. The Atlanta Braves purchased his contract before Sunday's game from Triple-A Gwinnett.
Sheets last appeared in the majors in 2010, starting 20 games for the Oakland A's before suffering a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow for the second time in two years. After sitting out the entire 2011 season, he signed a minor-league contract with the Braves on July 1 to begin his comeback.
The veteran, who turns 34 years old on Wednesday, made two starts for Double-A Mississippi, where he showed some signs of rust by giving up six earned runs in 10.2 innings. He also missed a lot of bats, though, striking out 10 with just one walk, which was enough to convince the Braves he was ready for Sunday's promotion. Clearly, he was ready.
The Atlanta Braves sure aren’t wasting any time. They signed former Brewers and Athletics righthander Ben Sheets to a minor-league contract on July 1, just nine days ago. He quickly suited up for the team’s Double-A affiliate, the Mississippi Braves, and made two starts — well, you wouldn’t even call them rehab starts, would you, because what, exactly is he rehabbing from? More than a year off of competitive baseball?
Anyway, he pitched reasonably well in start one, a bit better in start two, and now he’ll be pitching for the Braves against the Mets this weekend, according to Jon Heyman:
It’s rare for a player to succeed at this; it's even rarer for someone with Sheets’ injury history. But after a solid Double-A rehab start, Sheets could be pitching for the Braves soon:
Ben Sheets gave up three runs in 5 2/3 innings during his second start with the M-Braves. The four-time All-Star threw 89 pitches, including 58 strikes. Only two of the runs were earned. The 33-year-old right-hander allowed seven hits — all singles — while striking out four. His fastball was consistently around 90-91 mph.
When the Braves first signed Sheets, they said they’d evaluate him after two starts, one of about 75 pitches, the other of about 90. He’s accomplished that with no injury issues and good results both in velocity and opposing team hits and runs.
The Braves have been seeking help for their rotation; though no official announcement regarding Sheets’ status has yet been made, based on all of that, we could be seeing him in Atlanta soon.
Sheets is scheduled to make at least two starts in Double-A Mississippi, largely because it’s only 90 minutes from his home in Louisiana. He’ll go five innings or 75 pitches on Wednesday, then six innings or 90 pitches in a start after that. If all goes well, the Braves think he could be ready shortly after the All-Star break.
For someone with Sheets’ injury history, it seems ludicrous to think he could be back in such a short time. But he threw 90-plus for the Braves before he signed, and then there’s this:
Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez caught his bullpen session on Sunday at Turner Field, just like he caught Sheets back in 2003 with the Brewers. Sheets’ old personal catcher thinks he’s back.
“It reminds me of when I caught him in Milwaukee because of the stuff he threw today,” Perez said. “It’s pretty much the same. He’s been working out. He looks really good. He’s pain-free too, which to me is the most important thing.”
Hey, it might work. Sheets is only 33. The Braves could use some starting pitching. If they make the playoffs with Sheets helping out, it’ll be the move of the year.
Not only was he signed, but apparently he's in uniform throwing a bullpen session at Turner Field on Sunday. That suggests that he was going to skip the whole minor-league tune-up part, but according to Danny Knobler, Sheets will start for the Braves' AA affiliate on July 4.
Sheets is still just 33, which is probably about five years younger than you were thinking. He threw 20 games in 2010 for the Oakland A's, compiling a 4.53 ERA before having season-sending elbow surgery. He missed the 2009 season because of elbow surgery as well, but he made the All-Star team in both 2007 and 2008.
In 2004, Sheets had one of the greatest single-season strikeout-to-walk ratios ever, striking out 264 and walking 32 in 237 innings.
Powell is the Braves' radio broadcaster, just reporting what he's seeing. Maybe Sheets is up with the big team, or maybe he's just throwing on the side to give the team a better idea of where he should start his minor-league assignment. Or maybe this is like a Make a Wish thing for his elbow, and he gets to keep the jersey. Not sure.
But it sure seems like Ben Sheets is going to join the Braves. Well, say, that's kind of neat.