DENVER -- When top setup man Eric O'Flaherty sustained a season-ending elbow injury six weeks into the 2013 season, the Braves saw the other members of their bullpen step up and fill the void in an impressive manner. They've not been as fortunate while spending the past five weeks without right-handed setup man Jordan Walden.
The Braves have already lost more games (six) that they led at the completion of the sixth inning than they did all of last season (five). Four of those 18 losses have come since May 27.
Thus it goes without saying that the Braves are looking forward to putting Walden back in the bullpen for Tuesday night's game against the Rockies. Walden, who has been sidelined since May 4 with a strained left hamstring, struck out five of the eight batters he faced while completing his rehab appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett.
Now the Braves will simply hope that Walden is able to avoid the numerous leg and back ailments he has dealt with over the past few years while employing a violent delivery that stresses his left leg as he vaults himself toward the plate. He posted a 1.59 ERA, limited opponents to a .171 batting average and struck out 39 percent of the batters he faced in the 13 appearances he made before the hamstring began bothering him against the Giants on May 4.
"It's always nice to have a guy like Walden come back, especially with the ability that he brings and what he brings to the table," right-handed reliever David Carpenter said. "We were just trying to piece things together after he went down. To get a guy like that back is definitely a good feeling."
With Walden out of the mix, the Braves have mixed and matched relievers in an attempt to find a reliable eighth-inning setup man. But Carpenter has posted a 5.68 ERA and allowed opponents to produce a .379 on-base percentage since Walden went on the disabled list. Luis Avilan, who served as a reliable setup man last season, fell out of favor in April and has recently been primarily used as a left-handed setup specialist.
Consequently, Shae Simmons -- who made his Major League debut on May 31 -- has essentially served as the top setup man over the past week.
"It stinks, but it's ... just a matter of keeping that mind-set of remembering that we're good and what got us here," Carpenter said. "Now we've just got to go out and do it."
La Stella showing potential for power
ATLANTA -- Second baseman Tommy La Stella has already provided the Braves with the consistent production they envisioned when they called him up to the Majors for the first time on May 28. But as he progresses through his career, he has displayed the potential to also begin showing some power.
"If you watch him take [batting practice], he's got juice," hitting coach Greg Walker said. "He's got really quick bat speed. He's going to start driving some balls. But we're not talking to him about that at all. We just want him to have quality at-bats, and he's done that. He's taking his walks. He's done great. For a young kid, he looks like he belongs up there."
La Stella, 25, entered Monday night's game against the Rockies having hit .400 with a .438 on-base percentage through his first nine games. Although he has not yet recorded an extra-base hit, the Braves are simply hoping he continues providing consistency to the second base position, which proved troublesome during the season's first two months.
La Stella's 12 hits are the second most recorded by a Braves second baseman this year. He needs just eight more to match the leading total Dan Uggla has tallied with 86 more at-bats.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.