Snitker: Braves likely to use piggyback approach

July 8th, 2020

ATLANTA -- As Mike Soroka and Max Fried both completed what equated to about three innings during a controlled scrimmage on Wednesday afternoon at Truist Park, they created further reason to wonder if the Braves would be wise to limit the workload of each of their starters within their first few starts of the season.

It would certainly make sense to limit the early workload of Cole Hamels, who missed Spring Training with left shoulder inflammation. But is there necessarily a need to do so with the other projected starters? Especially given what has been seen thus far from Soroka and Fried.

“I think we still have to be careful about pushing them, because it Is just going to be [intrasquad and scrimmages],” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ll see when we get there. But I’d be real surprised if we weren’t in the beginning doing the piggyback [approach].”

With the piggyback approach, the Braves would allow their starting pitcher to work three to four innings and then be followed by a reliever, who would be slated to throw two to three more innings. Teams would not be able to do this as easily once the active rosters are reduced from 30 players to 28 players 15 days into the regular season.

But it would certainly be feasible to do this for the first two of what might end up being a total of 12 starts for a pitcher over the 60-game regular season. Snitker has indicated the primary reason to take this approach is to avoid the ailments that might be incurred if a pitcher overexerts himself after going through this three-week Summer Camp without feeling the adrenaline level associated with an actual game.

If Soroka is indeed going to be the Braves’ Opening Day starter, he should be able to pitch in two more simulated outings before likely matching up against the Mets’ Jacob deGrom on July 24 at Citi Field. The 22-year-old right-hander could work four innings during an intrasquad game on Monday and then five innings during an intrasquad game on July 18.

This would leave Soroka essentially where he would be in terms of endurance at the end of a normal Spring Training. But with the Braves not playing any exhibition games, their pitchers will have a hard time simulating the adrenaline level that would be felt in a regular-season game.

“This is new for everyone,” Fried said. “My approach is to take it day-by-day and see how we’re feeling. I’m going to go out there like it’s a normal season and try to build up. But we’ll kind of take this thing day-by-day.”

Fried spent the past few months working out in California with his high school buddy Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals righty who didn’t endear himself to many Braves fans last year. The Atlanta lefty made great strides last year and could begin this upcoming season in the No. 2 spot of the rotation.

“I thought Maxxy was awesome from the get-go,” Snitker said after Wednesday’s scrimmage.

Fried began the game by striking out Ronald Acuña and didn’t encounter much trouble over his three simulated innings. Soroka allowed Ender Inciarte to sneak a single past the third-base bag in the first inning and then ended his outing by stranding Adam Duvall and Travis d’Arnaud, who had produced consecutive singles in the third.

Once the two starters exited, Shane Greene threw one inning and Josh Tomlin worked what was essentially three innings. Tomlin surrendered a two-run homer to Duvall and was fortunate to see a couple loud outs land short of the outfield wall.

While Tomlin certainly has plenty of time to get sharper, this outing is a reminder that an effective piggyback system requires a team to have two pitchers prove sharp over multiple innings of the same game.

But while that might occasionally backfire during the season’s first two weeks, Snitker believes the shortened 60-game season will still be long enough to realize the potential long-term benefits of this piggyback system, which is aimed to prevent pitchers from blowing out too early.

“I know the urgencies [with the shorter schedule],” Snitker said. “I’ve read all that and I’ve heard all that. With that being said, we aren’t going to push anybody we don’t feel is ready for what we have for them. We’re going to have to win under the constraints ... we’re still going to have to get these guys stretched out and built up once the season starts.”