Hiatus has benefited Braves’ injury situation


When the Braves reported to camp in late February to start spring training, the typically festive mood was dampened by the news of starting pitcher Cole Hamels’ injured shoulder. Braves brass admitted the injury was likely going to prevent Hamels from making his first Braves appearance until at least a month into the season.

Days later, Braves fans’ cortisone levels rose again when first baseman Freddie Freeman was sidelined for a portion of spring training with elbow inflammation after the four-time All Star had offseason surgery to remove bone chips and loose fragments.

Not exactly the ideal situation. And then a pandemic hit.

Nearly 15 weeks later, teams around the league are putting the gears in motion to restart the season. Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said the 2020 Major League Baseball season’s three-month hiatus has helped the team from a physical standpoint, allowing both players to recover and be fully ready to help the team’s push for a third consecutive another National League East crown.

“Cole has definitely crossed my mind a lot throughout this whole thing,” Flowers told media in a video conference call Friday morning. “He's going to be able to hopefully make an impact throughout this whole season, so that's definitely a swing in events from where we were in the last spring training. That's exciting.”

Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos said earlier in the week that Hamels was scheduled to throw a bullpen session later in the day Friday, and that the Braves anticipate having him on the 30-man roster when the team breaks camp to start the regular season. Flowers said a veteran like Hamels has value beyond what he gives the team on the mound.

“I think having him around throughout spring for a lot of our young pitchers and especially our young left-handed pitchers, that's a great thing too,” said Flowers. “But having him every day, it's not just the impact he's going to have on the field, but what he can contribute off the field, I think that's going to have great benefits. Again, you're trying to find the little positives for the situation we've been in and will continue to be in, that'll potentially be a big one for us.

Aside from Hamels, the Braves will have two other southpaws in the mix for the starting rotation. Max Fried is almost guaranteed to be one of the five initial starters (assuming manager Brian Snitker opts for a five-man rotation with an unorthodox schedule on the horizon). Another lefty looking to make an impact will be Sean Newcomb, who impressed coaches this spring with his command that caused him trouble last season and saw him relegated to the bullpen.

As for a veteran catcher like Flowers, he says the break has helped himself feel primed and ready to go for a season that begins in just a month.

“You don't want to take it too easy, and then have total shock when we jump into this shorter spring training,” said Flowers. "So I've been trying to stay on top of it a few times a week—just as far as getting into positions I want to be able to get into and keeping that flexibility , the strength and stuff. 

“But yeah, I also took advantage of not having to put that physical pull on my knees on a daily basis, and multiple other areas obviously. There are pros and cons of [the layoff], but it's about time to go, so I've been pushing it a lot more here the last couple weeks, and will continue to do that.”