Heading into this season, it looked like the Atlanta Braves were in possession of a stacked starting rotation. A trio of dynamic young arms—Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor—were set to team up with proven veterans Tim Hudson and Jair Jurrjens. What's more, the Braves had prospects like Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino, and Julio Teheran waiting in the wings.
Things haven't gone according to plan. Hudson missed the first month of the season with a bad back, Beachy and Vizcaino had their seasons lost to Tommy John surgery, Jurrjens was so awful at the beginning of the year that he needed to be sent down to triple-A, and Delgado and Minor have struggled.
Enter Ben Sheets. Yes, that Ben Sheets. The former Brewers pitcher who was at a certain point in time one of the most dominant pitchers in the league and who, like so many others from his era, was brought down by a series of devastating and unfortunate injuries.
But now Sheets, who will be 34 on July 18, is on the comeback trail. He signed a minor-league contract with the Braves just ten days ago (after throwing 90-92 m.p.h. in a simulated game), and has made
two starts for the team's double-A affiliate. In his first start he pitched five innings, allowed four earned runs, and struck out six. In his second start he pitched into the sixth inning, allowing two earned runs. Those were the first games that Sheets has pitched in since July of 2010, and they were all the Braves needed to see. Sheets has been tabbed to join the Braves' big league rotation, and he will make his first start this Sunday.
It's nice to see Sheets make his way back to the majors, because when he was on, he was something special to watch. His injuries and the fact that he never won more than 13 games in a season kept him from being properly appreciated by baseball fans at large, but god damn if his blazing fastball and knee-jerking curveball didn't make for one of the game's most wicked pitch combinations.
One also can't help but see the irony surrounding Sheets's return. A pitcher who had the promise of his youth stolen from him by catastrophic injuries is getting a second chance only because a new pair of promising arms have been knocked out of the game by injury. Baseball's cruel circle of life rolls on.