PHILADELPHIA -- To understand how Bryce Elder has become a legitimate All-Star candidate with a fastball that sits around 89-90 mph, it might be helpful to hear Bryce Harper’s assessment.
"I think he's got good stuff,” Harper said. “I feel like he's going to be a really good pitcher. If [the Braves] get into the postseason, he's going to be really good for them, I think, just because he has no heartbeat. He's very slow out there. He knows what he's doing.”
When Elder began this season as Triple-A Gwinnett’s Opening Day starter, he wasn’t expecting to garner this kind of praise from one of the game’s best hitters. But he earned this respect as he guided the Braves to a 5-1 win in 10 innings over Harper and the Phillies on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
“That was about as good as it gets, especially against this club,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “His stuff was really, really good. That sinker was something else. I can’t say enough about it.”
The Braves claimed an eighth straight win and swept a two-game set against the Phillies, who entered the week having won 13 of their past 15 games. Atlanta claimed this latest victory with the help of Michael Harris II, who broke a scoreless tie with a 10th-inning single and then scored when left fielder Kyle Schwarber botched Austin Riley’s two-out line drive.
Marcell Ozuna’s two-run homer capped a five-run 10th inning that ensured one of the best efforts of Elder’s young career wouldn’t go to waste. The 24-year-old hurler allowed three hits over seven innings.
Elder ranks second in the National League with a 2.40 ERA. That seems to make him a strong All-Star candidate.
“What he’s done, with the body of work, he absolutely should get an All-Star nod,” Snitker said.
This kind of praise certainly wasn’t expected when Elder was optioned to Minor League camp after he issued three walks and allowed a homer in a Spring Training start against the Phillies on March 14. With two weeks left in camp, the Braves determined Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd were better rotation options than Elder.
“They thought that was the best decision to make the Atlanta Braves good,” Elder said. “I just stayed the course and trusted what I was doing. I knew whether I was in Triple-A or here, I was going to be able to continue to get outs.”
Elder began this season in Triple-A Gwinnett’s rotation. But he has now completed a team-best 90 innings for the team that owns the NL's top record. He stands as one of the primary reasons the Braves have survived as two of their top starters, Max Fried and Kyle Wright, have spent most of the season on the injured list.
“For him to fill the shoes of a Cy Young Award candidate and a 20-game winner from last year, and for him to be succeeding is pretty deserving of [being] an All-Star if you ask me,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said.
d’Arnaud had the best seat as Elder used a heavy array of sinkers and sliders to baffle the Phillies, who also saw a good changeup. Elder induced nine groundouts, recorded six strikeouts, and had a lot of soft contact.
“His sinker has a lot of depth,” d’Arnaud said. “It’s something not a lot of people see either coming up in the Minors or even in the big leagues. A lot of guys with sinkers nowadays are throwing harder with more run. His depth is very unique.”
Elder’s sinker was better than usual on Thursday. As for the slider, it provided the same reliability it has most of the season. Entering this series finale, opponents had hit just .162 with a .509 OPS against the pitch.
“The way he pitches, it’s a little bit like turning on the TV and seeing a pitcher from the '90s,” Braves first baseman Matt Olson said. “He’s like one of those guys who can move it around and miss barrels because the ball is moving around like crazy. It’s pretty impressive.”
It’s been an incredible first half for Elder, who has just built on the success he had late last season with Atlanta. His story will become even better if he does indeed go from Triple-A Opening Day starter to All-Star in a matter of a few months.
“You always believe that you can have success, but you don’t really know until you do it,” Elder said.