ATLANTA -- Within the process of blowing an early four-run lead in their 8-6 loss to the Dodgers on Monday night, the Braves were reminded an injury-depleted starting rotation accounts for just a portion of their pitching concerns.
There are multiple concerns within the Braves’ bullpen, none more so than A.J. Minter, who was one of baseball’s top relievers last year. Minter’s most recent struggles began in late April and extended into Monday, when he proved he’s not the same as he was over the past few years, when he won every battle against Mookie Betts.
Trailing by one run with two outs and a runner on second base in the sixth inning, Braves manager Brian Snitker passed on sticking with right-handed reliever Joe Jiménez and instead went with the lefty vs. righty matchup between Minter and Betts.
“[Minter] has a good history with him, really good,” Snitker said.
Betts entered this game 0-for-5 with three strikeouts against Minter going back to 2020, including two postseason series. So, maybe, he was due when he greeted the Braves' southpaw with an RBI single that gave the Dodgers a 7-5 lead.
Or maybe, the more influential number in this situation was the 11.57 ERA Minter had produced in his past 13 appearances going back to April 21. To be fair, he had created hope when he worked a second straight scoreless appearance on Saturday, recording two strikeouts over an inning against the Mariners.
But it wasn’t like Jiménez was a great option. The right-hander entered this outing having allowed opponents to produce a 1.011 OPS in seven May appearances. He retired the first two batters he faced in the sixth Monday and then allowed Miguel Rojas’ double.
The fact there’s reason to argue whether Snitker should have stuck with Jiménez or gone with Minter is a problem. Minter served as the closer while Raisel Iglesias spent the season’s first month on the injured list, and he has been a reliable high-leverage option since returning from a Triple-A demotion in 2021.
The Braves acquired Jiménez from the Tigers in December hoping he would be a high-leverage asset. The veteran reliever has produced a 31 percent strikeout rate, down just slightly from the 33 percent produced last year. But he’s struggled to find consistency while producing a 4.41 ERA in 17 appearances.
Along with Minter and Jiménez underperforming, the Braves also now have valuable left-handed reliever Dylan Lee on the injured list with left shoulder inflammation.
This game might have highlighted the bullpen’s woes, but the relievers accounted for just a portion of the blame assigned after this loss. Sean Murphy didn’t get back to third base to tag on a line drive to center in the fifth on a play that could have tied the score at 6-6, and Charlie Morton struggled with his command, allowing six earned runs over just five innings.
The big blow was delivered by Freddie Freeman, who damaged his old team with a go-ahead three-run homer in the fifth. Freeman received a loud standing ovation before his first plate appearance and then enjoyed a three-hit night during this series opener.
Freeman got another glimpse of Eddie Rosario extending the success he’s had against the Dodgers going back to when they were teammates in Atlanta for the 2021 National League Championship Series. After a three-run homer in the first inning, Rosario -- who was the MVP of that NLCS -- is 18-for-37 with four homers against Los Angeles during that span.