Snitker's 'pen plan works for Atlanta again

4 Braves relievers complete G3 shutout with bullpen game looming for G4

October 30th, 2021

ATLANTA -- There has been little relief for the Braves' bullpen through the first three games of the World Series against the Astros, and that is not likely to change in Games 4 or 5. Instead of developing a new pitching strategy, Atlanta is charging forward by leaning heavily on its relievers, who have helped the club take a 2-1 lead in the Fall Classic after a 2-0 win in Friday night's Game 3 at Truist Park.

“Nothing's changed for us -- we're going to go out there and be aggressive,” said Braves left-hander Tyler Matzek, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning. “That's what we try and do: Try and pound the strike zone, stay in good counts, and that's going to help us go deep in the game or be able to go two innings, three innings, four innings, whatever we need to do.”

Atlanta manager Brian Snitker had enough confidence in his relievers to make the call to the bullpen after rookie starter Ian Anderson had thrown five hitless innings. The bullpen has been stepping up since Tuesday's Game 1, when Charlie Morton exited after 2 1/3 innings due to a season-ending right fibula fracture. (He would have been in line to start Sunday's Game 5, if healthy.) The ‘pen also picked up innings after Max Fried went five frames in Wednesday's Game 2.

So when Snitker turned to A.J. Minter in the sixth on Friday to replace a history-making Anderson, he believed the relief corps could get the job done again and still be fresh for the next two days, both of which will be bullpen games. Saturday's Game 4 opener has yet to be determined.

“We had a bullpen that all the guys we used had two days off, and they were only going to pitch an inning apiece,” Snitker said. “And that made them available for the next two games after -- if it went south.”

Having already seen what the Braves’ bullpen was capable of in Games 1 and 2, the Astros didn’t expect a dramatic shift in the contest when Anderson departed.

“They did what they had to do,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We didn't breathe no sigh of relief. Like I said, you can't take anything away from them, but when the guy's in the zone, out of the zone, like I said, it's tough to zero in on him.”

Snitker smoothly orchestrated the bullpen like puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together, moving late-inning relievers into high-leverage situations earlier in the game to maintain a lead and put the Braves in the best position to win. Minter, Luke Jackson, Matzek and Will Smith (in that order) combined for four scoreless innings. Minter and Jackson stretched Anderson’s no-hitter into the eighth, before it was broken up when Aledmys Díaz dropped a single into left field off Matzek.

Just take care of business in a key Game 3, Snitker thought, and work through Game 4 after taking the Series lead.

“I was all about winning today, and we'll deal with tomorrow tomorrow,” Snitker said. “We're going to have to use a lot of the other guys. … Hopefully, we score more runs.”

Added Matzek: "The boys are all ready, we're all ready down there. Night shift's ready."

The Braves' bullpen appears to be up for the test. And the Astros know the challenge they are going up against.

“They have a really good pitching staff all the way around,” Houston third baseman Alex Bregman said. “So no matter who's coming in, you've got to stay focused and locked in.”