Braves get Minor League lefty for Francisco
Southpaw Keeling comes over from Brewers, assigned to Double-A
ATLANTA -- When the Braves acquired Juan Francisco before the start of last season, they optimistically hoped he would live up to his potential and serve as Chipper Jones' successor at third base. But a little more than a year later, Francisco's lasting legacy in Atlanta came in the form of a Minor League pitcher.
The Braves traded Francisco to the Brewers on Monday in exchange for left-handed reliever Tom Keeling. The transaction was made four days after the Braves designated Francisco for assignment.
"[Keeling] is a good athlete," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "He's a guy you could see pitching up here in a couple years."
Keeling will be assigned to the Braves' Double-A Mississippi roster. The 25-year-old has made 105 Minor League relief appearances since the Brewers selected him in the 18th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
Keeling is considered to be a potential candidate for Atlanta's bullpen at some point next season. His fastball reaches 93 mph when he is throwing with a traditional over-the-shoulder arm angle. He occasionally drops down and pitches with a sidearm delivery, from which he has shown the ability to command both his fastball and curveball.
"One thing we're going to zero in on is, do we want him to continue to fluctuate with his [arm] angles," Wren said. "He will go from different angles. He has a breaking ball from up here and a different one from down here. We'll look to see whether that is helping him or hurting him in the developmental process. He has a real good arm and he gives hitters a tough time with those angles."
Keeling has recorded 19 strikeouts and issued 10 walks in 17 innings for Milwaukee's Double-A Huntsville club this season. Left-handed hitters have hit .273 (6-for-22) against him and right-handed hitters have been limited to a .225 (9-for-40) batting average.
Francisco has incredible power potential and quick hands. But the 25-year-old third baseman has struggled to find consistency with a violent swing that has many moving parts.
While there were some flashes of promise, Francisco ended up hitting .237 with 14 home runs and a .701 OPS in the 300 at-bats he compiled for Atlanta.
After hitting .316 with four home runs and 18 strikeouts in his first 57 at-bats this season, Francisco batted .157 with two extra-base hits and 25 strikeouts in what proved to be his final 51 at-bats with the Braves.
The Brewers plan to play Francisco primarily at first base.
Braves' bullpen forging along despite injuries
ATLANTA -- The Braves had reason to be concerned when they learned reliever Eric O'Flaherty would need to undergo Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
Jonny Venters, who had teamed with O'Flaherty to form a lethal late-inning duo over the previous few years, had undergone the procedure two days earlier. Jordan Walden, the only other seasoned veteran in Atlanta's bullpen, had gone on the disabled list the previous day with right shoulder inflammation.
But in the 15 games that have been played since O'Flaherty was placed on the disabled list, the Braves' bullpen has posted a 2.55 ERA, which ranks as Major League Baseball's fifth-best mark during this span. The Atlanta relief corps has blown four different leads in the sixth inning or later during this span. But just one of those instances resulted in a loss.
"We've got plenty of talent down there," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We'll keep running them out there and giving them an opportunity."
The bullpen has been strengthened by the recent return of Walden, who has worked three scoreless innings since returning from the disabled list last week.
Gonzalez said Monday that he had not received word that veteran right-handed relievers Luis Ayala or Cristhian Martinez are getting close to being activated from the disabled list.
Ayala and Martinez, who has been sidelined for nearly two months because of right shoulder inflammation, have spent the past two days at Turner Field. But this is simply because the Braves' Spring Training complex has been closed this week.
Ayala was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in late April and later learned that some bacteria had formed around his stomach. He lost at least eight pounds and found it hard to regain his energy. But the 35-year-old reliever said he has been feeling much stronger recently.
"As soon as I finished my treatment, I felt so much better," Ayala said. "Now, [I am] going to do the things I did before."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.