ATLANTA -- All good things come to an end. Fortunately, the same thing can be said of bad things, like too many bullpen games.
With that being said, the Braves aren’t willing to say they are done trying to address their injury-depleted rotation by constructing bullpen games a couple times a week. But they were given more motivation to look closer at their other options as they suffered a 7-3 loss to the Mariners on Saturday night at Truist Park.
“The only risk in these bullpen games is it’s got to go almost perfect,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s hard to do that because you’re running so many guys out there, you don’t know when one of them might have an off day.”
Instead of recalling Dylan Dodd to start the middle game of this three-game set, Atlanta opted to go with Jesse Chavez as an opener. Chavez recorded seven outs in scoreless fashion and then handed the ball to Michael Tonkin, who was burdened by a couple errors but also allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks over two innings.
Eugenio Suárez hit a two-run homer off Kirby Yates in the seventh to further bruise the Braves, who have lost six of their past nine games. They have lost each of the three bullpen games they’ve constructed within this span.
So would it be better to go with either Dodd or Michael Soroka, instead of relying on the ‘pen during Thursday’s series opener against Philadelphia?
“You’d like to see them go down there and string together some starts,” Snitker said. “Those guys we talk about are all options, but they haven’t as of yet put together two, three or four starts in a row that you feel good about.”
Dodd threw four scoreless innings against Triple-A Memphis on Saturday night. The Braves sent him to the mound with a 75-pitch limit, which might have been to put him in position to start Thursday’s game against the Phillies.
Soroka is still looking to find consistency as he battles back from twice tearing his right Achilles tendon. The 25-year-old hurler threw 91 pitches over six innings on April 18. The Braves skipped his next turn, and he hasn’t completed more than 4 2/3 innings or thrown more than 83 pitches in any of the four starts that have followed.
As for AJ Smith-Shawver, the pitching phenom and Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect made a successful Triple-A debut on Friday night, allowing just two runs over five innings. But before thinking the 20-year-old right-hander might be ready for the Majors, remember he’s made just 27 starts since leaving high school. And he really didn’t pitch on a regular basis until his senior year in 2021.
The Braves’ starting pitching depth has been depleted as they have lost three of their top five starters since the start of Spring Training. Ian Anderson struggled in camp and underwent Tommy John surgery in April. Fried and Wright’s extended absences are going to truly test the team’s resiliency and perseverance.
“You just grind through these six months and try to do the right thing, because there’s still a lot of baseball,” Snitker said.
A couple bullpen games over this week isn’t going to create long-term endurance issues for the relief corps. But with Wright and Fried both likely sidelined for an extended period, this doesn’t seem to be a wise long-term solution.
It doesn’t seem sustainable, does it?
“Time will tell, but I don’t think so,” Chavez said. “I think [bullpen games] are a good stop-gap for the time being until you have the right pieces in place. We have enough guys down there who can handle the job. We’re all willing to take the ball any time, any day and get as many outs as we can. We just have to understand the situation we’re in now with two big guys [Fried and Wright] going down.”