The Atlanta Braves' bullpen -- already considered one of the best in baseball -- led the majors in ERA through the first nine games. But that didn't stop general manager Frank Wren from adding another arm to the mix.
The Braves obtained veteran right-hander Luis Ayala from Baltimore in exchange for pitching prospect Chris Jones on Wednesday and the 35-year-old will join the team Friday in Washington for the first of the three-game series against the Nationals.
Ayala will definitely come in handy if Jonny Venters, on the disabled list with a strained elbow, isn't able to return by the end of May or early June. But Wren said he had been eying Ayala since spring training. "You look to add pieces that can give you more depth in your bullpen," the GM said. "This is one of those pieces. In watching him this spring, we thought he could help us."
Ayala had a 2.40 ERA in 118 appearances the past two seasons, pitching for the New York Yankees in 2011 and the Orioles last year. He missed the 2010 season because of Tommy John elbow surgery.
Despite being without Venters, the Braves bullpen hadn't allowed an inherited runner to score through the first nine games and had a 1.65 ERA to go with a 2-0 record and 4-for-4 save mark.
Closer Craig Kimbrel, who had a 1.01 ERA and struck out half the batters he faced in 2012, hasn't been quite as dominant despite his perfect record in saves, allowing two walks and a hit over four innings. But the Braves bullpen appears to be even deeper than a year ago with the addition of Jordan Walden and now Ayala.
The continued development of Luis Avilan has also been a key. He gives the Braves a second lefty even with Venters sidelined. Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty sets up Kimbrel in the eighth inning, with right-hander Walden the main pitcher in the seventh.
O'Flaherty had allowed a run in two of his five appearances, but he posted a 0.98 ERA over 78 appearances in 2011 and had a 1.73 ERA in 64 games last year.
Venters, who pitched in 230 games the past three seasons, was shut down for four weeks after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection on April 2 and will hopefully be able to resume a throwing program after that. An MRI of his elbow was inconclusive.