Cheers! Dodd delights fans with winning MLB debut

Braves prospect pins down Cards with 5 strong IP and personal cheering section on hand

April 5th, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- They came from a small town up north where Braves rookie  grew up and a small city down south where he went to college, converging on Busch Stadium to watch the left-hander make his Major League debut.

There were so many friends and family on hand to see Dodd pitch, he lost track of how many, estimating the number between 100 and 150. They weren't disappointed as he logged five strong innings to help the Braves cruise to a 4-1 win over the Cardinals on Tuesday night.

“That first inning, I was so nervous,” Dodd said. “That was the most nervous I’ve ever been, but I’m just grateful that in the local area here, I was able to have a lot of friends and family.”

Dodd, ranked as Atlanta’s No. 10 prospect by MLB Pipeline, made his debut just hours from where he grew up in Bismarck, Ill. -- a town of 579 people about three hours northeast of St. Louis on the Indiana border. The 24-year-old gave the Braves the kind of solid start they’ll need as they deal with key injuries to their pitching staff as he held the Cardinals to one run on six hits to go with zero walks and three strikeouts.

Dodd went to college about 100 miles south of Busch Stadium in Cape Girardeau at Southeast Missouri State. He said he could hear his supporters cheering him on loudly during the game. Asked if he had a message for his college teammates, Dodd turned the question around and asked the reporter whether the baseball team won that day (turns out it beat Little Rock, 17-6).

Braves manager Brian Snitker has admitted he knew next to nothing about Dodd in Spring Training before he made the club by pitching to a 2.00 ERA in five games and striking out 20 batters in 18 innings.

For Atlanta fans, Dodd’s strong spring performance echoed the story of another little-known left-hander, Tyler Matzek, who pitched well enough to make the roster in 2020 before becoming a stalwart in the Braves’ bullpen the past three seasons, particularly in the 2021 World Series run.

Matzek currently is on the 60-day injured list after undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer and will miss the 2023 season.

The Braves waited until the start of their three-game series in St. Louis on Monday to promote Dodd from Triple-A Gwinnett, simply so they could carry an extra reliever for the first three games of the season. Atlanta also put ace left-hander Max Fried on the 15-day injured list on Tuesday, meaning it will have two rookies in its rotation for the time being, with right-hander Bryce Elder scheduled to pitch Wednesday’s finale with the Braves eyeing a series sweep.

Closer Raisel Iglesias remains on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation.

Dodd was selected by the Braves in the third round of the 2021 MLB Draft. His primary asset is pinpoint command. Over 156 Minor League innings, he walked just 34 batters.

His command performance against the Cardinals put him in good stead on a team with a great history of developing its own young arms. Dodd became the seventh Braves pitcher since 1901 to go five-plus innings in his debut, allow no more than one run and walk none. The others were Michael Soroka (2018), Manny Bañuelos (2015), Matt Wisler (2015), Joe Johnson (1985) and two pitchers -- Tom Tuckey (1908) and Sammy Curran (1902) -- who pitched in the early years of the 20th century.

“That’s what I’ve been watching all spring, pretty much,” Snitker said. “For your first outing and all the people he had here, and you could tell by the ovations, I thought he handled it great.”

It was even more impressive considering that the Cardinals -- with right-handed sluggers Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Tyler O’Neill -- were one of just two teams in MLB last year to have better success against left-handed pitchers than the Braves’ .783 OPS against southpaws.

The Braves fared better against Cardinals lefty Steven Matz. For the second game in a row, they bashed multiple home runs in the first two innings. Austin Riley hit a first-inning homer for the second consecutive game and Orlando Arcia hit his first long ball of the year in the second.

Atlanta, which hit three home runs in the first two innings of Monday’s 8-4 win, led 4-0 by the third inning on Tuesday.

Only five teams have hit more home runs thus far this young season than the Braves, who have belted nine in five games.

Atlanta also has displayed an athletic, skilled defense in this series, with Ronald Acuña Jr., Riley, Ozzie Albies and others all making strong defensive plays in Tuesday’s game to help the Braves hold St. Louis to just one run despite the Cardinals’ 10 hits. Acuña threw out Tyler O’Neill at the plate trying to score on Brendan Donovan’s single in the bottom of the seventh inning.

“I think I always have an opportunity to throw them out, as long as they hit it my way,” Acuña said through an interpreter.