LOS ANGELES -- Certain scenes take place in every National League Championship Series game, no matter the venue. There is the national anthem prior to first pitch. There is the seventh-inning stretch. And there is Tyler Matzek jogging in from Atlanta’s bullpen.
As soon as the Braves announced that Game 4 on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium would be a bullpen game for them, it seemed all but certain that Matzek would be a part of it, joining Jesse Orosco, Wade Davis and Greg Holland as the only pitchers to appear in each of their team’s first eight postseason games.
Because he is Matzek, he should be good to go for Game 5 on Thursday regardless. Most Braves relievers should, given how comfortably manager Brian Snitker managed his bullpen in a 9-2 victory that gave Atlanta a 3-1 series lead over the Dodgers.
“You’ve got to mix, match, scramble, just because of the time of year it is,” Snitker said. “You talk about Matzek. I thought he was probably as effective and as sharp tonight as he has been the whole postseason. He keeps telling us that: ‘The more I pitch, the better I feel and the better I’ll be.’”
Matzek may be the headliner of this group, but he’s not the only Braves reliever who figures to be in decent shape behind starter Max Fried heading into Game 5.
RHP Luke Jackson
Game 5 status: Green light
From the Braves’ perspective, an important aspect of Game 4 was Snitker’s ability to give Jackson his first game off of the postseason. Jackson was, of course, the losing pitcher in Game 3 on Tuesday, serving up Cody Bellinger’s three-run homer in the eighth. But he was unscored upon in six prior appearances this postseason, and he was Atlanta’s best reliever during the regular season, producing a 1.98 ERA over 71 appearances.
The Braves retain supreme faith in Jackson, who will enter Game 5 having pitched just once in three days -- a rare luxury for any high-leverage reliever this time of year.
“For the offense to score enough runs to be able to give Luke Jackson a day off is huge,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “These guys have been pitching every single day.”
LHP Will Smith
Game 5 status: Green light
Smith, Atlanta’s closer, had no trouble setting down the heart of Los Angeles’ batting order -- Corey Seager, Trea Turner and the other Will Smith -- on 16 pitches in the ninth in Game 4. He ranks among the Braves' best-rested relievers, given his tidy 12-pitch outing in Game 2 and his absence from Game 3.
Snitker went as far as to say he was looking for a way to use Smith on Wednesday, which is why he did so despite Atlanta’s four-run ninth-inning rally bloating a save situation into a seven-run margin. Pitching on back-to-back days shouldn’t be a problem.
LHP A.J. Minter
Game 5 status: Red light
While Snitker isn’t the type to rule anything out, it’s unlikely Minter will appear in Game 5 after throwing two scoreless innings in Wednesday’s victory -- he’s earned the rest. Pitching on a second consecutive day, Minter faced six batters, allowing a leadoff single to Albert Pujols in the seventh before quickly erasing any trouble on a double play.
Minter hasn’t allowed a run in four postseason appearances, giving the Braves more than three outs in half of them. But he’s never pitched on three consecutive days in his career.
LHP Tyler Matzek
Game 5 status: Yellow light
Then there is Matzek, Atlanta’s everyday option. Traditional baseball logic dictates that a manager might shy away from a reliever who has thrown four times in five days (not to mention eight times in 13 days since the postseason began). But not Snitker, not with Matzek.
Asked earlier this season about his workhorse lefty, Snitker cut off the question to laugh and say: “God bless him.” Then he launched into a description of Matzek’s unique dynamism: “He’s the one guy … that comes in and it’s like, ‘I can pitch every day.’”
“It’s amazing,” Snitker said. “I mean, he kind of gets pissed off when I don’t pitch him.”
Expect Snitker and Matzek to have their usual conversation heading into Game 5, and expect the left-hander to be available. While Snitker would love to give Matzek a break at some point, a pennant clinch Thursday would give the Braves ample opportunity for that ahead of Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night.
“As much as we’ve used him, he never is needing a day off,” Snitker said. “I mean every time we tell him, ‘You’re down’ … at some point in time of the day he sticks his head in my office and says, ‘Snit, I can pitch. I'm good. I can throw every day.’ He’s amazing, that kid.”