Takashi Saito's Injury: Why We Should Be Concerned

While last night was certainly a big night for the Braves as they kicked off their 9-game road trip, the injury to Takashi Saito in the 8th inning really bothered me. If you didn't see, Saito came in to pitch last night and left after striking out the first two hitters he faced. Takashi appeared fine, but after throwing a 1-0 fastball, he immediately grabbed his shoulder and signaled for Brian McCann and the Braves coaches to come to the mound. And it wasn't like Takashi tried to walk it off either. It was immediate. 

After the game, you always hope to hear a player say something along the lines of, "Oh, it's just a cramp. I'll be fine," but Takashi wasn't as optimistic last night. According to multiple reports, it's the shoulder that's bothering him, and he won't even be evaluated for a few days. That's never a good sign.

When Frank Wren signed Saito in the off-season, it came with mixed feelings from the fans. While most of us liked how productive and effective Takashi had been since coming over to MLB, but we all worried about his health. He hadn't really been healthy since 2008, and he could no longer pitch on back-to-back days (or so the reports from Boston said.) Needless to say, I think those worries have evaporated over the course of the season.

2010 - Takashi Saito 2-3 55 0 0 0 1 1 53.2 39 18 15 4 14 69 2.52 .99

Those are some great numbers, and Saito has been huge for us in the 7th and 8th innings this year. Just for some comparison, Takashi is 7th in the NL in K/9 (11.57), 5th in WHIP (8.9) and 9th in BAA (.196). That's awesome. And he's been even better in the last month or so; in his last 16 appearances, Saito has pitched 15 and 1/3 scoreless innings, with 20 strikeouts, one walk and a .158 BAA (H/T: AJC). In other words, Saito hasn't been just one of the Braves better relievers this season, but one of the better relief pitchers in the National League.

While our bullpen has been great all year (and it's even better now with the September call-ups), this injury really has me worried. It's not that I don't feel safe with our guys we have now, but I'm not so sure we should feel safe with our right-handed relief options if we're in a close game.

Saito brought us a stable, right-handed option every time he came into the game. Now, we have Peter Moylan, who seems to be the "all-or-nothing" type since the All-Star Break. Kyle Farnsworth, despite being pretty good in his last few appearances, always has Braves fans on the edge of their seats with his ability to wreck a game in just a few seconds. Craig Kimbrel, who has pitched about ten meaningful innings in his Major League Career. Cristhian Martinez, who is our long-man in the 'pen. And Scott Proctor, who hasn't pitched in a big game since 2008. I'm not so sure we should feel safe with those five being our right-handed options out of the bullpen.

There isn't much we can do to fix this, but I think it's a point that should be brought up. Say we're facing a few guys like Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla in the 8th inning. Do we feel safe bringing one of our remaining righties in to face them, or do we now have to save Jonny Venters to pitch, regardless of the match-up? None of those guys (besides Proctor) have any experience pitching experience in big games. Saito brought that to the bullpen every night.

This post obviously isn't one to bash any of our right-handed guy in the 'pen. They've been great (for the most part) all season. We wouldn't be where we are right now without them. And while I still have confidence in our right-handed guys, I feel like the injury to Takashi Saito shouldn't be overlooked. If he's done for the rest of the season, we're really going to miss him.

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