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Sweet relief as Braves streak to 5th straight

@mlbbowman
August 2, 2020

ATLANTA -- To realize their ultimate goal this year, the Braves will eventually need to fix their rotation. But while winning seven of their first 10 games, they’ve proven strong enough to cover their one glaring weakness. Austin Riley doubled during a two-run third inning and Johan Camargo contributed a

ATLANTA -- To realize their ultimate goal this year, the Braves will eventually need to fix their rotation. But while winning seven of their first 10 games, they’ve proven strong enough to cover their one glaring weakness.

Austin Riley doubled during a two-run third inning and Johan Camargo contributed a homer as the Braves ran their winning streak to five games with a 4-0 victory over the Mets on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park.

Box score

Credit for this latest victory goes to a bullpen that worked 5 2/3 scoreless innings after Kyle Wright’s early command issues forced him to exit earlier than desired. This relief corps has posted a 3.07 ERA, despite being asked to cover at least 4 2/3 innings in seven of these first 10 games.

“They’ve been really good and we’ve put a lot on them,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It hasn’t been an easy ride. It’s been all hands on deck pretty much the whole time, and they have responded better than you could ever expect. Thank God because we sure needed them.”

Snitker should feel even better about his bullpen at some point this week, when All-Star reliever Will Smith will likely be activated from the COVID-19 injured list. In Smith’s absence, the bullpen has been enhanced by the comeback stories being fashioned by lefties A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek.

Minter battled shoulder discomfort last year and faltered after becoming the closer during the 2018 season. His comeback story is not quite as impressive as the one being fashioned by Matzek, who has struck out nine of the 20 batters he’s faced while totaling 5 1/3 scoreless innings over four appearances.

In other words, he’s far removed from those yips that chased him from the big league level in 2015 and kept him away until this year.

“He’s been incredible,” Wright said. “Toward the end of last year, we got him in Triple-A and he pitched for us in the [International League] playoffs. I remember several of us were like, ‘Man, this guy is good.’”

Matzek enhanced his value when he replaced Wright with two on and one out in the fourth inning. He induced a Brandon Nimmo groundout before ending the threat by striking out Jeff McNeil. He worked a perfect fifth and exited after allowing a pair of hits in the sixth. That potential danger was erased when Minter induced Tomas Nido’s inning-ending double play.

Those contributions made by Matzek, Minter and Shane Greene, who worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings, covered Wright, whose command issues forced him to exit with his pitch count at 75 with one out in the fourth. The highly regarded prospect stranded at least two runners in each of his three full innings, but he looked better than he did against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, when he imploded during the third.

Still, the Braves will need more consistency and dependability as they attempt to plug holes in the rotation.

Two times through the rotation, Mike Soroka and Max Fried have combined to throw 23 innings and allow five earned runs (1.95 ERA). The other three spots have combined to complete 21 innings and allow 18 earned runs (7.71 ERA).

Soroka and Fried are the only starters who have completed more than 4.1 IP in a start, and the starter has gone fewer than 4 IP in four of the six games not started by Soroka or Fried.

Cole Hamels won’t be joining the rotation until September, and the Braves also have to compensate for the losses of both Félix Hernández, who elected not to play, and Mike Foltynewicz, whose drastic decline led to him being designated for assignment.

So, while the Braves might be able to eventually trade for another dependable starter, their current focus is on their internal options. Two of those include top pitching prospect Ian Anderson, who is waiting in the wings, and Wright, who at least made strides over the past five days.

“It was an improvement over the last time, I’ll say that,” Snitker said. “So hopefully the next time out, he’ll be a little more settled and start feeling [like] himself. To his credit, he never gave in, which is a great trait to have. He’s a young kid with great stuff that is learning.”

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