Interesting week to get this guy by random since he is expected to be activated very soon from a rehabilitation stint following surgery that prematurely ended his Atlanta Braves career. Eric O’Flaherty was an afterthought when the Braves acquired him. In a bullpen that already had established relievers like Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, and Peter Moylan, the former failed Mariners prospect wasn’t expected to be much more than depth in the minds of Braves’ fans. But he turned out okay.
Back in 2003, the Mariners had drafted O’Flaherty out of Walla Walla High School in the sixth round. The former Blue Devil would quickly rise up the ranks in the Mariners minor league system. He started two games in 2003 and ten the following season, but would transition for good into a reliever in 2005 when he nailed down a career-hgih 13 saves. He had a whirlwind 2006 that began in advanced-A ball with the Inland Empire 66ers and finished with over a month with the Mariners with stops in AA and AAA in between. Used as situational lefty, O’Flaherty finished 11 innings for the fourth-place Mariners.
He spent most of 2007 with the M’s and posted a 1.24 WHIP over 52.1 ING, but back discomfort limited him to just 6.2 ING in the majors during 2008 and another 18.1 ING in the minors before ending his season on June 2. Why the Mariners gave up on a guy who showed some nice ability as a 22 year-old in 2007 is just another sign of how poorly ran the Mariners were during the Bill Bavasi and most recently, the Jack Zduriencik days.
Regardless, the Braves took full advantage, acquiring O’Flaherty for a paltry waiver fee and brought O’Flaherty to camp in 2009 with a chance to secure a sport in their bullpen. He would do that and more and pitched in 78 games during 2009 with a 3.04 ERA and 3.45 FIP to go with a 1.24 WHIP. The following season was limited by back trouble, but he was just as good in 2010 as he was in 2009. The Mariners had to be kicking themselves. Their top lefty reliever in 2009 was Garrett Olson, who they used out of the pen 20 times in mostly suckage action. Olson was agin their primary lefty in 2010 and he again primarily sucked. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 2012 for the Mariners to have a plus lefty out of the pen when Charlie Furbish broke out.
O’Flaherty’s best season came in 2011 when he posted a 0.98 ERA while tying his career high of 78 games. He became the first reliever to record an ERA under 1.00 while making at least 70 appearances. It was also the first year of O’Ventbrel, a three-headed monster that shortened games for the opposition. Jonny Venters had joined O’Flaherty in 2010 with 79 games as the primary set-up man and Craig Kimbrel ascended to the closer position the following year. The three pitchers combined for 242 appearances, 238.2 ING, and a 1.66 ERA. The Braves starting rotation was hardly formidable in 2011, but they didn’t have to be. All they had to do was get the ball to the first chink in the O’Ventbrel chain.
Sequels are never as good as the original and while the 2012 version was very good with help from O’Flaherty’s 64 games and 1.73 ERA, the trio was not quite as good and struggled with nagging injuries. Sadly, it would be truly the final version of the O’Ventbrel monster.
2013 saw Venters break down before the season even began. O’Flaherty lasted a month-and-a-half before he too would hit the DL and miss the rest of the season. It was an especially sad development for O’Flaherty, who was a free agent at the end of the season. Once the 2013 season was finished, there was a lot of ink that the Braves and O’Flaherty might agree to a contract to extend his time with the Braves. The hopefulness of December soon transitioned into a long weeks of no word until O’Flaherty agreed to a two-year, back-loaded deal with the A’s. He would make $1.5M this year and $5.5M the following.
O’Flaherty would finally work himself into playing shape on June 6th when he debuted with Stockton in advanced-A. Five days later, he got into his second game with AAA Sacramento. Six games later, he has yet to appear in back-to-backs, but as his rehab stint is nearly finished, O’Flaherty expects to formally be called up to join the first place A’s as soon as today.
On August 15th, the A’s come to Atlanta for a three-game weekend series. If healthy, we might see O’Flaherty facing Braves lefties like Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. Best of luck, boys. O’Flaherty’s pretty good.