Elder gets Game 3 start, but hurt by Harper's homer

October 12th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe Phillies slugger Bryce Harper knew something when he complimented after the Braves right-hander threw seven scoreless innings in Philadelphia on June 22.

“If [the Braves] get into the postseason, he's going to be really good for them, I think, just because he has no heartbeat,” Harper said after that outing. “He's very slow out there. He knows what he's doing.”

Well, the Braves are in the postseason and Elder made his return to the Citizens Bank Park mound to oppose Harper and the Phillies in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday. However, Harper got the best of him this time.

Elder allowed six runs in 2 2/3 innings in the 10-2 loss, including a crushing three-run homer to Harper with two outs in the bottom of the third, which the Phillies slugger sent to the upper deck in right field.

The Braves opted not to make their announcement until six hours before the first pitch. They said they were debating between using an opener or a traditional starter. Their choices for a traditional starter seemed to be Elder, who was an All-Star this year, or , a 20-year-old top prospect with just 25 1/3 innings of big league experience.

“We just kind of felt like after the way he threw in [Thursday’s intrasquad game] and with the layoff, he was the guy,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He's been a starter for us all year. He was a big reason why we won the division. We liked what we saw.”

Elder began this season as Triple-A Gwinnett’s Opening Day starter and then proved to be one of the most consistent assets within Atlanta’s injury-depleted rotation. His success helped the Braves persevere as both Max Fried and Kyle Wright missed most of the season.

Elder posted a 3.81 ERA while making 31 starts during his first full big league season. He’d have been a no-brainer choice for this start had he not allowed 13 runs and issued nine walks while totaling 12 1/3 innings over his final three regular-season starts.

Fatigue seemed to be the issue. But the only game action Elder had seen since Sept. 26 came via the five innings he threw in an intrasquad game on Thursday. The hope was that extra rest would get him back to where he was when he posted a 3.38 ERA through his first 28 starts of the season.

Smith-Shawver ranks as the Braves’ top prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 53 prospect overall. He posted a 4.26 ERA while issuing 11 walks and recording 20 strikeouts over six appearances (five starts) for Atlanta this year.

But the Smith-Shawver who made four of his five starts in June and July isn’t the same one the Braves have seen over the past couple weeks.

Smith-Shawver rested his arm when he was placed on the Triple-A injured list in August. The time off seemed to be quite beneficial. He made the most of the spot start he made against the playoff-contending Cubs, allowing just one run over 3 2/3 innings.

The talented young hurler dazzled again last week as he silenced an intrasquad lineup that included Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Matt Olson. That outing seemed to cement his place on Atlanta’s NLDS roster.