Bullpen survives injuries, keeps thriving

Bullpen survives injuries, keeps thriving

ATLANTA -- About the only time most people seem to notice the bullpen is when it doesn't get the job done.

That's part of the reason that the Braves' bullpen has gone largely unnoticed in 2010.

With an ERA of 2.96, second-lowest in all of baseball -- only San Diego's 2.81 is lower -- and the lowest batting average against (.218), and fewest hits allowed (369), Atlanta's relief corps has not only survived a multitude of changes forced by injury, they've thrived, without missing a beat.

For example, as Eric O'Flaherty, a key left-handed arm, recovers from dizziness and possible other after-effects of mononucleosis, which first shelved him for a month during July and August, the Braves have called upon Michael Dunn to fill his role.

Dunn has posted a 1.00 ERA in 23 games this season. He's retired 17 of 23 first batters faced and has allowed only three of 13 inherited runners to score. That's a miniscule 23 percent. In September, Dunn has made 12 appearances, covering 9 2/3 innings, allowing only two runs and eight hits, while striking out 16 and walking five.

Surprised? Braves manager Bobby Cox isn't.

"Mike made the All-Star team in the International League as the left-handed relief pitcher," said Cox. "He's done very well."

Fireballer Craig Kimbrel has made the loss to injury of key right-handed setup man Takashi Saito easier to handle.

Kimbrel has recorded 38 strikeouts in 20 Major League innings, and hasn't allowed a run in his last 15 2/3 innings, dating back to June 7. Over his last 10 appearances, all shutouts, he has surrendered four hits, while recording six multi-strikeout appearances, three times striking out the side.

The 'pen may cause a problem should the Braves make it to the postseason, however, as with Saito and O'Flaherty both possibly ready to return, Cox will have to decide who to keep on the roster.