Ageless Chavez still a key part of Braves' success

June 18th, 2024

ATLANTA -- While participating in a recent charity golf tournament, thanked Tim Hudson for the direction he and other Braves veterans gave him way back in 2010, when he was a 26-year-old Atlanta pitcher, still in the early stages of what has become a 17-year Major League career.

“I let him know, he’s part of the reason why I’m still around,” Chavez said. “It was great. It was a good talk.”

Chavez has repeatedly credited Hudson, Billy Wagner, Eric Hinske, David Ross, Brian McCann and other veterans from the 2010 Atlanta team for showing him how to be a big leaguer. As each of them are well into their respective retirements, the 40-year-old reliever is still doing his thing at an elite level.

Ozzie Albies hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning and Forrest Wall celebrated his return to the Majors with a key RBI single. But Chavez’s ability to clean a sixth-inning mess and construct a scoreless seventh gave the Braves the chance to claim a 2-1 win over the Tigers on Monday night at Truist Park.

“He’s shown time and time again that he’s reliable and that he makes big pitches,” Braves starting pitcher Max Fried said. “He’s a big part of this team.”

Chavez has become a fan favorite since he returned to the Braves during the 2021 season. He’s joined three other organizations since then, but has always found his way back to Atlanta, where he has found the success that has recently eluded him elsewhere.

The Cubs, Angels and White Sox have all given up on Chavez since the start of the 2022 season. The Braves have been more than willing to use him in high-leverage situations, like the one that developed in Monday’s sixth, when Chavez replaced Fried with two on, one out and the Tigers leading 1-0.

“You can’t make any situation any bigger than what it is,” Chavez said. “I think that’s what our M.O. is right now.”

The Braves won for the fifth time in their past six games because Chavez handled this situation like the seasoned pro he has become since getting a chance to play for Braves Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox’s final team. He struck out Justyn-Henry Malloy and remained focused after a balk put two runners in scoring position. He then got help with a called third strike against Colt Keith.

“Anytime you can go in and do your job, when you’re called upon, that’s a blessing,” Chavez said.

Chavez will turn 41 on Aug. 20. He made this appearance against the Tigers three days after the one-year anniversary of his left shin being fractured by a Miguel Cabrera comebacker in Detroit.

But the ageless wonder might be better than ever. He has posted a 1.21 ERA in 23 appearances (29 2/3 innings). He has limited opponents to an .059 batting average (2-for-34) with runners in scoring position. That ranks first among all pitchers who have faced 35 batters with RISP. He has allowed just one of 13 inherited runners to score.

“I had a coach in college that said I was going to pitch into my 40s,” Chavez said. “It’s a testament to the people I’ve been around, the guidance I’ve gotten from the older guys.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker was Cox’s third-base coach when Chavez spent the first four months of the 2010 season with the Braves. Chavez and Gregor Blanco were traded to the Royals in exchange for Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel before the Trade Deadline.

Fourteen years and seven big league teams later, it feels like Chavez was always meant to be with the Braves.

Chavez has posted a 2.03 ERA over 151 innings with the Braves since he rejoined them a few months into the 2021 season. He has produced a 7.16 ERA in his 16 1/3 innings with the Cubs and Angels within this same span.

As for the White Sox, they cut him loose at the end of this year’s Spring Training.

Chavez said the ability to prepare for games the way he wants to without being judged by coaches or staff members is what sets the Braves apart from other clubs.

“Other places I’ve been, I’ve been judged by that, and we’ve seen what happened,” Chavez said.

Chavez has hinted that this will be his final season. But if it isn’t there shouldn’t be any question where he should spend the remainder of his career.

“We went through [this year’s] camp without him, but the sentiment was that some way or another, he’d find his way back to us,” Fried said. “His impact on this team and organization is really great. I couldn’t be happier for him.”