NEW YORK -- As A.J. Minter has dealt with the lingering effects of the lower back discomfort he developed in early August, the Braves have fortunately seen Arodys Vizcaino position himself as a potential closer for the rest of the season.
Regardless of the role assigned to either, the Braves know they need both of these late-inning weapons to be right once the National League Division Series begins next week.
"It's a big week," Minter said. "Of course, you want to be confident going into the postseason and you want to be a hundred percent mentally and physically. So this week for me is about finding it again."
When Vizcaino's right shoulder sidelined him for nearly three months, Minter delivered in the closer's role, posting a 1.72 ERA and limiting opponents to a .190 on-base percentage over 17 appearances from June 20-Aug. 3. But the young left-hander's reliability evaporated after he strained his lower back while throwing before a game during the first week of August.
Minter says he hasn't felt any back discomfort since taking a few days off near the end of August. But he has not been able to fix the mechanical flaws that developed as he attempted to pitch through the discomfort. After allowing the Rockies four hits and three runs with two outs during an Aug. 18 loss at SunTrust Park, Minter rested over the ensuing week. He has allowed opponents to hit .270 (10-for-37) and produce a .357 on-base percentage over the 9 1/3 innings that have followed. He's allowed at least three hitters to reach safely in four of the nine outings tallied within that span.
"Yeah, I've been struggling this past month," Minter said. "I'm just trying to find it again. I'm trying to be consistent and find that release point. That's the biggest thing. "The last thing I want to do when I'm out there in a game is worry about mechanics. So honestly I've just been trying to figure out that release point while playing catch. I'm trying to find it again."
Even if Minter rights himself this week, Vizcaino will likely enter the postseason as the Braves' closer as long as he stays healthy. The veteran reliever has quieted doubts as his four-seam fastball has averaged 97.7 mph and he has held opponents hitless and scoreless in three of his four appearances since returning from the disabled list.
"He could be a really huge part of the bullpen," Snitker said. "The last couple times he's pitched, he's been really, really good."