With Kris Medlan suffering a tear in his UCL, the Braves are in need of a starting pitcher, and so they’re summoning Mike Minor from Triple-A to fill the rotation spot on Monday. The pitcher that Medlan originally replaced in the rotation, Kenshin Kawakami, was not an option to fill the spot because he’s thrown only one inning in the last six weeks.
Kawakami, however, has not been hurt, suspended, or otherwise absent from the team. He has just been chilling in the bullpen, waiting for Bobby Cox to summon him to the mound, an invitation that never materializes. And now that the Braves actually have a spot for him, he’s not stretched out enough to fill the hole, and is headed to Triple-A to get back on the mound. The entire saga of Kawakami’s usage is one of the more perplexing story lines of 2010.
While he is certainly no kind of ace, Kawakami is a perfectly serviceable major league starter. His performance is no different this year than it was last year, as his nearly identical xFIPs indicate. His ERA is up due to some BABIP fluctuation, but even that number isn’t overly high. He didn’t even pitch himself out of the rotation – his last start before being banished resulted in a strong performance against the Tigers.
And yet, Bobby Cox clearly has no faith in him. He kept him on ice, waiting for a low leverage long relief spot to let him soak up innings, but one never came, and he refused to use Kawakami in any game where the outcome was not yet determined. Why doesn’t he trust Kawakami? Your guess is as good as mine. His win-loss record isn’t pretty, but Cox has to be able to see how useless that number is, right?
So, instead of using a decent enough pitcher to help keep the Phillies at bay in a pennant race, the Braves now find themselves hoping he pitches well enough in Triple-A to generate some interest from another team, leading to an August trade. With a $6.7 million salary for 2011, he is sure to clear waivers, even though that amount isn’t much more than he’s worth.
Once the Braves find a team willing to look past wins and losses, Kawakami will likely have a new home – one where the manager is actually willing to give him the ball. The Braves, meanwhile, will lean on a rookie to try to keep them ahead of the Phillies in the NL East. For their sake, I hope Minor pitches well, because otherwise, they’ll have a lot of reasons to look back and wonder why their manager simply refused to use a pretty decent major league pitcher in the middle of a pennant race.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.