'It was really good': Shuster's scoreless start impresses

March 17th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jared Shuster didn’t allow any runs and -- just as impressively -- he didn’t blink when given his first start as the top candidate to fill the Braves’ final rotation spot.

Shuster displayed a good changeup, an effective slider and great poise as he pitched in front of a big crowd while facing his favorite childhood team during Friday's 8-0 victory over Boston at JetBlue Park. It’s safe to say the Braves’ top prospect aced his latest test, while strengthening his position as the top candidate to begin the season as Atlanta’s fifth starter.

Every time out, [Shuster] has been so good, you look forward to it," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "And [I] think, 'Wow, how is he going to react again?’”

Shuster reacted impressively, surrendering three hits (all singles), issuing one walk and recording seven strikeouts over four-plus innings. The 24-year-old southpaw has allowed just one run over 12 2/3 Grapefruit League innings. His success has produced what has thus far been the most encouraging storyline to emerge from Braves camp this spring.

“I just came into camp to try to show what I can do,” Shuster said. “Whatever happened, happened. So, I’m very happy with where I’m at."

This is an exciting weekend for the Braves as they will now evaluate Dylan Dodd’s rotation candidacy when he starts Saturday against the Phillies. Shuster and Dodd, who ranks as Atlanta's No. 10 prospect, became the top two candidates for the fifth starter spot when and were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday.

Shuster has totaled just 212 1/3 innings since being taken out of Wake Forest in the first round of the 2020 MLB Draft, and Dodd is less than two years removed from being a senior selection in the 2021 Draft. But like with Spencer Strider last year, the Braves are giving these young pitchers a chance because they seemingly give Atlanta the best chance to win.

“I used to tell guys, 'Bobby [Cox] doesn’t care what round you were drafted, how much money you got with a bonus.' He just wants somebody to come up and help him win games, no matter who you are, where you’ve been or how you got here,” Snitker said. “I think [Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos] identifies with that too.”

As a former first-round pick and current top prospect, Shuster isn’t coming out of nowhere. But nobody was projecting him to begin this season in Atlanta’s rotation. Anderson’s extended struggles and Michael Soroka's health woes helped create this opportunity. But the young lefty has also positioned himself with this chance with the assistance of a slider that greatly improved late last season with Gwinnett.

The Red Sox got a glimpse of that slider as Shuster opened this latest outing with back-to-back strikeouts of Christian Arroyo and Triston Casas. That was a good way to start this audition. But just as impressive might have been how he reacted after Boston loaded the bases with a single, a hit-by-pitch on a two-strike delivery and a full-count walk.

Making the first true pressure start of his young career, Shuster responded by getting Bobby Dalbec to look at a called third strike. He then rolled through his final three innings relatively unscathed.

“I liked that he got in trouble [so we could] see how he reacted,” Snitker said. “It was really good.”

Shortstop battle?
Battling Shuster and Dodd for this year’s most encouraging storyline is the remarkable improvement shown by Braden Shewmake, who ranks as the Braves’ No. 6 prospect. Shewmake has shown good range and he is better defensively than , who came to camp considered the favorite to begin the season as Atlanta’s shortstop. Grissom is healthy, but he hasn’t played the past three days. Snitker said Grissom is expected to play Saturday night.

Soroka's progress
Soroka got through two innings of a live batting practice session without any issues Friday morning. The injury-plagued right-hander should have time to make at least one appearance before the Braves end Major League camp. Soroka has dealt with a hamstring strain since the start of Spring Training.