2008 NEWS

2008 News > 3/26/08

BRAVES GET RELIABLE ARM WITH GLAVINE'S RETURN

By Carroll Rogers, AJC.com

Tom Glavine didn't have to pore over boxscores, watch "Baseball Tonight" or talk to John Smoltz to understand the problems the Braves rotation had last year.

All he had to do was look at the out-of-town scoreboard from the Mets dugout for the jersey number of the Braves' starter that night.

"If it wasn't Smoltzy or Huddy [Tim Hudson], you're like, 'All right, we've got a chance to pick up some ground today,' " Glavine said. "A lot of times you look up there on days and you're like, 'What number? Who's that guy?' "

Some of the stumpers? Perhaps Buddy Carlyle's No. 38, or Anthony Lerew's 50, or maybe 37 for Jo-Jo Reyes, 30 for Jeff Bennett or 40 for Lance Cormier. The Braves used 10 different starters last year, and only Smoltz and Hudson pitched consistently well and deep into games.

Smoltz (205-2/3) and Hudson (224-1/3) were the only Braves starters to eclipse 200 innings. Chuck James made 30 starts but pitched only 161 1/3 innings. Carlyle was next with 107 innings.

Early exits by starters left the bullpen taxed. Braves relievers piled up more innings 539-1/3 than any bullpen in Bobby Cox's 22 seasons and two stints as Braves manager.

So when Glavine signed a one-year deal with the Braves just shy of his 42nd birthday (it was Tuesday), with a sinking fastball that tops out in the low 80s, he was still confident in what he could offer this team: innings.

Glavine has thrown at least 200 innings in 14 of his past 18 seasons. Twice when he didn't, they were strike-shortened seasons.

"I still think I'm more than capable of doing that," Glavine said. "I'm not sitting here saying I'm going to pitch 250, but 200 is a realistic number. ... If I pitch 200 innings, then I've done a lot to help this team win and whether or not I'm the guy that gets credit for the win, you have to wait and see. But at this stage of my career, I don't care so much about that. I want to help us win."

The Braves needed a horse, and they believe they've got one. Glavine has never gone on the disabled list. He's made at least 32 starts each of the past 12 years, going back to the strike-shortened 1995 season.

This used to be a regular thing for the Braves rotation, back in the days of "31, 29, 47 and 33," as Glavine rolls off easily, for Greg Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine and Steve Avery.

In the 11 years Maddux was a Brave he fell short of 200 innings only once in 2002, and it was by two outs. He topped 220 innings seven times. Smoltz has surpassed 200 innings each of his past three years back in the rotation, just as he did in seven of his first nine years before elbow problems caught up to him.

"In our heyday, we were throwing out 250 innings, 240 innings, and all of a sudden, you don't realize what that does for a ballclub," Smoltz said. "When you provide stability in the top of your rotation, you know you're going to save your bullpen two out of three out of four days. That's a big thing."

Glavine and Maddux have been able to reach 200 innings well into their 40s by learning to pitch with less velocity.

Glavine's sinker is about 82-84 mph now. He pitches inside and uses more curveballs than when he left the Braves five years ago. But it's still the change-up that makes him go. And what's changed about his change-up? The difference in speeds.

At the top of his game, Glavine said there was about 5-6 mph difference in his fastball and change-up (about 88 to 82). Now it's more like 8-10 mph (82 to 74). Plus he throws a curveball as slow as 69 mph, which is in sharp contrast to the occasional 86 he'll hit with his four-seam fastball.

"That's a lot of area to cover," Glavine said. "I think that was one of the big things I learned with [Mets pitching coach] Rick Peterson. The more you can create a gap between your high end and your low end, and move the ball inside and outside, the more you're giving the hitter speeds and locations they have to think about, the tougher it becomes."