'If you're ready, you're ready': Shuster makes case for 5th starter
Late-inning relievers work through struggles; Harris goes oppo vs. Bucs
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jared Shuster is showing why he ranks as the Braves’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He’s also creating reason to believe that he’s the best candidate to begin the season as Atlanta’s fifth starter.
Shuster has authored one of the most encouraging storylines in Braves camp this spring. The 24-year-old left-hander penned another chapter in Atlanta’s 11-3 win over Pittsburgh on Sunday, when he constructed an impressive start against what should essentially be the Pirates’ Opening Day lineup.
“I love watching him pitch,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s efficient, and he works fast.”
Shuster has made a good first impression on Atlanta’s big league coaching staff. The young southpaw has been a recognizable figure since the Braves took him in the first round of the 2020 MLB Draft. But that year’s COVID-19 shutdown combined with the restricted and shortened Spring Trainings that followed led to him not pitching in Grapefruit League games the past two years.
But Shuster has had little trouble against the big league opponents he’s faced over the past couple of weeks. Shuster held the Pirates hitless until he surrendered a home run to Bryan Reynolds with one out in the fourth. He struck out five and allowed just one run over a 3 2/3-inning stint that concluded with a strikeout of Andrew McCutchen.
“Reynolds saw my best [changeups] all day,” Shuster said. “I just threw him a crappy one there.”
Armed with a good changeup and a steady fastball, Shuster has pushed himself closer to the Majors with the slider he started to truly trust near the end of last season. The pitch has helped him allow just the one run through 8 2/3 innings over three Grapefruit League appearances (two starts).
“It's been a great experience so far, just being able to be with big leaguers,” Shuster said. “It’s been great to learn from them and face them and see how my stuff plays against them. It's been really awesome. I'm really grateful for the experience.”
Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder are the top candidates in the battle to begin the season as Atlanta’s fifth starter, but neither has been overly impressive thus far. Michael Soroka will re-establish himself as a candidate once he catches up from the time he lost when he came to Spring Training with a right hamstring strain.
So while Shuster might have come to camp as a dark horse candidate, he can also be accurately described as the most impressive candidate thus far.
Shuster posted a 2.78 ERA over 17 appearances (16 starts) for Double-A Mississippi and then constructed a 4.25 ERA over 10 appearances (nine starts) for Triple-A Gwinnett last season. He has totaled just 212 1/3 innings since his career at Wake Forest was ended by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“If you’re ready, you’re ready,” Snitker said. “It’s very impressive what he’s doing.”
So although Shuster is still a little green, his success over the past couple of weeks has shown he might soon be ready for Atlanta.
“I’m just enjoying it all,” Shuster said. “It’s all a process. A lot of hard work, a lot of good teachers and teammates have helped me get to where I am.”
Kirby Yates allowed a two-run homer to Jack Suwinski during Sunday’s fifth inning. But he wasn’t the Braves’ only high-leverage reliever to incur damage this weekend. Closer Rasiel Iglesias (one inning) and top setup man A.J. Minter (one-third of an inning) both allowed three hits and two runs on Saturday; Joe Jiménez also allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning that game. Lefty Lucas Luetge allowed four runs in 1 2/3 innings after having to replace Minter in the fifth.
“Probably all to a man, they are all battling some Spring Training blahs and a dead-arm type of thing with all the throwing they’ve been doing,” Snitker said. “As long as everybody is healthy, it’s good to get them out there.”
Michael Harris II showed his opposite-field power again when he homered off Pirates starter Mitch Keller in the first inning of Sunday’s game. Harris’ second homer of the spring sailed into the Braves’ bullpen, located beyond the left-field wall. Six of the 19 homers he hit last year were of the opposite-field variety.