d'Arnaud, Flowers close to return to Braves

Weiss congratulates Matzek; Smith continues to play catch at Truist Park

July 29th, 2020

ATLANTA -- and both worked out in the Atlanta area on Tuesday. There is a chance that the Braves will activate at least one of these veteran catchers from the COVID-19 list before Wednesday’s home opener against the Rays.

“I think if everything goes right, we could see at least one of them tomorrow,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s just going to be about where they’re at and how they feel. They may need a [couple more days]. But everything has cleared.”

d’Arnaud and Flowers did not accompany the team on the season-opening road trip, because both began showing symptoms last week. Both were still feeling under the weather this past weekend, but neither tested positive for COVID-19.

Though the catchers are feeling better and have tested negative multiple times, the Braves still took a cautious approach on Tuesday by having d’Arnaud work out at Truist Park while Flowers was working out at Coolray Field, home of Triple-A Gwinnett.

Snitker spent the past few days saying the hope was that d’Arnaud and Flowers were both just battling a cold or a similar ailment that wouldn’t have necessarily sidelined them if there hadn’t been a fear of them spreading the coronavirus.

“I think both of them would tell you it felt good to get out there and run around and sweat,” Snitker said. “They probably will feel even better after doing that.”

Alex Jackson and William Contreras have served as the Braves’ catchers through the first five games of the season. Jackson had made four career Major League appearances entering this year, and Contreras had never played above the Double-A level. In Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Rays, Jackson recorded his first career hit.

Genuine appreciation
Braves bench coach Walt Weiss knew exactly how far Tyler Matzek had come when the left-handed reliever tossed a scoreless inning in Sunday night’s win over the Mets.

Weiss was the Rockies’ manager when Matzek debuted with 19 strong starts for Colorado in 2014. He was still in that role when the southpaw’s career was derailed by the yips one year later. Before Sunday, Matzek’s most recent big league appearance occurred on May 6, 2015, against a D-backs lineup that included Ender Inciarte, who has since won three National League Gold Glove Awards for the Braves.

“I was like a kid in a candy store,” Matzek said. “After the game, [Weiss] came in the clubhouse. ... I just appreciate everything he has ever done for me. He’s always had my back.”

Given his own experiences, Matzek also had tremendous respect for Daniel Bard, who pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief against the Rangers to earn the win for the Rockies on Saturday. It was the Bard’s first appearance since yips derailed his career in 2013.

Coincidently, Bard was the D-backs' mental skills coach when Matzek went to Spring Training with Arizona before the 2019 season. So the two shared some time together last year.

“He’s just a great dude,” Matzek said. “We have a lot in common with our baseball experiences. We were able to talk, and I wouldn’t say figure it out together, but I definitely picked up some things he said and I hope he picked up some things I said. He’s got a great story, and the man is electric.”

Smith update
All-Star reliever Will Smith has continued to play catch at Truist Park, and he should soon be cleared to throw off a mound. The lefty was limited to throwing into a net in his yard while he was quarantined for three weeks after testing positive for COVID-19 on July 3. He was cleared to end the quarantine on Sunday.

Smith should be ready to be added to Atlanta’s active roster at some point next week.

“He feels good,” Snitker said. “You just can’t get up there and throw five [bullpen sessions] in one day. It’s going to take some time.”