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Braves hoping time in Minors benefits Minter

@mlbbowman
May 26, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- As the Braves search for ways to improve their bullpen, they are maintaining hope A.J. Minter will benefit from his demotion, much like the Brewers’ Corey Knebel and the Phillies’ Hector Neris did last year. Minter lost his role as Atlanta’s closer at the start of May,

ST. LOUIS -- As the Braves search for ways to improve their bullpen, they are maintaining hope A.J. Minter will benefit from his demotion, much like the Brewers’ Corey Knebel and the Phillies’ Hector Neris did last year.

Minter lost his role as Atlanta’s closer at the start of May, then found himself optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett a little more than a week later. But as he has notched 10 strikeouts and issued just two walks while producing 5 1/3 scoreless innings over four appearances at the Triple-A level, he has created some hope he could once again become a late-inning asset at the big league level.

“He’s been really good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “All of his pitches are starting to pick up. He’s regaining some of that lost time by going down and being able to pitch in less stressful situations.”

Minter seemed lost as he surrendered a .340 batting average and .441 on-base percentage while producing a 9.82 ERA through 15 appearances for Atlanta this year. The young left-hander walked 15.3 percent of the batters faced and seemed to lose confidence as he retired just 10 of the 24 batters faced over the final six appearances made before being demoted.

The most noticeable difference with Minter was the effectiveness of his four-seam fastball, which averaged 96.6 mph last year and 95.6 mph this year. The pitch wasn’t necessarily dominant, as it yielded a .257 batting average and .376 slugging percentage in 2018. But it wasn’t a detriment like it was this year, as opponents batted .444 (8-for-18) and slugged .778 against it.

Shoulder discomfort felt following a late February car accident sidelined Minter throughout most of Spring Training and denied him a chance to further develop the changeup he began having success with in September. But Snitker said the reports from Gwinnett’s coaching staff indicate Minter has started to grow more comfortable with this pitch, which could prove to be a weapon when trying to attack right-handed hitters on the outer third of the plate.

“It’s a good [changeup],” Snitker said. “He’s throwing it enough and getting good enough results that it’s going to be a part of what he’s got going on.”

After being demoted by the Brewers near the end of August, Knebel recorded 47 strikeouts and allowed just one run over the 26 1/3 innings (postseason included) he completed upon returning. Neris has produced a 2.01 ERA over the 40 1/3 innings (42 appearances) he’s completed since being recalled to Philadelphia last August.

Before targeting a return date for Minter, the Braves will allow him to continue making up for the time he lost while missing essentially the entirety of Spring Training.

“The plan is for him to stay regular there and keep pitching,” Snitker said. “We’ll see when the time arises. But we don’t have a target date or anything like that.”

Condolences
Josh Donaldson was among the many who spent Sunday mourning the tragic death of Rod Bramblett, the beloved Auburn University radio voice who, along with his wife, was involved in a fatal car accident Saturday night.

“It definitely hits close to home,” Donaldson said. “He’s been involved with Auburn baseball for 27 years and he’s definitely a face everybody knew. It’s sad. I saw his Kick-Six call [against Alabama in 2013] of him up in the booth last night. The amount of excitement he got out of doing what he did for a living, that’s what we all strive for.”

While playing for Auburn from 2005-07, Donaldson developed a bond with Bramblett, who was part of the school’s broadcast network for nearly 30 years. He was the lead baseball announcer for 11 years before assuming those duties for football and men’s basketball in 2003.

“He’s always been super professional and passionate about what he’s done,” Donaldson said. “When you turned on a game, you just always knew you’d hear him. We’ll definitely be keeping his family in our prayers.”

Injury updates
• Braves Gold Glove outfielder Ender Inciarte is still likely a couple weeks away from being cleared to begin baseball activities. Inciarte has been on the injured list since May 15 with a lumbar strain.

Darren O'Day has continued to make progress with his throwing program, but he has not been cleared to begin throwing off a mound. The veteran reliever has been sidelined since straining his right forearm during his first March 1 spring debut.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.