Braves land relievers Johnson and Hearn in trades with Rockies and Rangers
ATLANTA (AP) — The NL-leading Atlanta Braves added a pair of relievers to their injury plagued bullpen Monday, acquiring right-hander Pierce Johnson from Colorado and lefty Taylor Hearn from Texas.
The Braves have baseball's best record (64-34) and a big lead in the NL East, but they have been hit hard by injuries — especially on their pitching staff.
Relievers Nick Anderson (right shoulder strain), Dylan Lee (left shoulder inflammation) and Jesse Chavez (bruised left shin) are all on the 60-day injured list. Lefty A.J. Minter is also out with shoulder inflammation, though he is set to begin a minor-league rehab stint Tuesday and could rejoin the team by next week's trade deadline.
“You just don't know what's going to happen,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said on a conference call with reporters. “You just don't know what needs you're gonna have, what injuries you're gonna have. You can't take anything for granted at any time.”
The Braves gave up pitching prospects Victor Vodnik and Tanner Gordon to land the 32-year-old Johnson, who began the season as the Rockies closer. He has 13 saves but was removed from that role in early June while saddled with a 7.50 ERA through 24 innings.
Johnson has pitched better since then, surrendering six earned runs in 15 innings, though his overall numbers (1-5, 6.00 ERA) are still ugly. The Braves were looking for another right-handed arm with power coming out of the bullpen, and they hope Johnson can fill that role. He has 58 strikeouts in 39 innings while pitching at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
“I know the numbers on the surface aren't great. But he’s still getting lots of swings and misses,” Anthopoulos said. “We think there's upside there and room to improve."
Hearn was acquired from the Rangers for cash considerations after being designated for assignment last week. He gives the Braves another left-hander in the bullpen, but is more of a depth acquisition since he has minor-league options remaining.
Hearn began the season with the Rangers and posted a 10.29 ERA in four relief appearances before being optioned to Triple-A Round Rock in mid-April. He was 2-2 with a 3.66 ERA in 24 outings for the minor-league team.
Anthopoulos noted that the 28-year-old Hearn has made 25 starts in the big league, giving the Braves additional flexibility. His big issue is a lack of control, with 104 walks over 229 innings in his big league career.
“He's got a great arm, a power arm,” Anthopoulos said. “We'll see him get in the strike zone a little bit more. But the fact is he's got big stuff. He has experience starting. He's a nice piece for us to take a shot at.”
The 23-year-old Vodnik was 3-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 30 relief outings for Double-A Mississippi. The 25-year-old Gordon has split this season between Triple-A Gwinnett and Mississippi, combining to go 5-9 with a 5.86 ERA in 17 games.
“It's always hard to part with young guys,” Anthopoulos said. “But you have to give up talent to get a guy like Pierce Johnson, with his stuff.”
The trades followed another low-key pitching move on Sunday, when the Braves acquired right-hander Yonny Chirinos off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 29-year-old Chirinos went 4-4 with a 4.02 ERA in 15 appearances for Tampa Bay, including four starts. He struck out 31 and walked 20 in 62 2/3 innings.
The Braves could make additional moves ahead of the Aug. 1 deadline, especially if they can add another starting pitcher and perhaps some infield depth.
Atlanta has gone with just three regular starters — Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder and Charlie Morton — much of the season because of injuries to ace Max Fried (left forearm strain) and right-hander Kyle Wright, a 21-game winner in 2022.
Fried is set for another rehab outing on Wednesday, which could be his last before rejoining the Braves' rotation. Wright has made only five starts this season, the last coming on May 3, and his return from right shoulder inflammation is not expected before September.
“The biggest challenge is once the first of August comes and goes, we're done," Anthopoulos said. "You know this is the last shot to try to insulate yourself from what may or may not occur.”
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