ATLANTA -- Chad Sobotka began wondering if his professional career might be nearing an end when the Braves did not invite him to their preseason mini-camp. His optimism was tested again when he began this season with Class A Advanced Florida. But the hard-throwing right-hander now finds himself providing much-needed depth at the Major League level.
"You've got to like the arm," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You've got to start them somewhere, and if they do well, you feed them a little more responsibility. He's got weapons, that's for sure. If he gets confidence and used to this being his new normal, then you might have something there."
Sobotka has made a good impression, as his four-seamer has shown to be a plus fastball while he's allowed just one hit and no runs over five innings since being promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett last week. He recorded four strikeouts over 1 2/3 innings during Friday's 11-5 loss to the Rockies.
The 6-foot-7 right-hander issued three walks while working the second inning during the first game of Monday's doubleheader against the Marlins. But his control -- which led to him issuing five walks per nine innings with Florida and Double-A Mississippi last year -- has been much better since he made some adjustments to his slider grip.
If left-handed reliever Sam Freeman makes his expected return from the disabled list next week, the Braves will likely need to option either Sobotka or Kolby Allard. Sending Allard back to Gwinnett would simply take away the insurance of having a long relief option to eat innings if a starter makes an early exit or a game is extended far beyond the ninth inning.
By sending Sobotka back, the Braves would be cutting their bullpen depth, which became an issue again Thursday night when closer A.J. Minter and a pair of reliable left-handers -- Jesse Biddle and Jonny Venters -- were unavailable because of recent usage. The recently acquired Brad Brach's inability to preserve a one-run, ninth-inning lead was hindered by a Dansby Swanson error.
Sobotka is far from a finished product and certainly would not be used as one of the primary choices out of the bullpen. But his arrival, combined with Luke Jackson's recent improvement and the non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisitions of Venters and Brach, have at least provided some depth to the Braves' bullpen, which counted Minter and Biddle as its only reliable assets near the end of July.
Once September arrives, the Braves may add Brandon McCarthy, Peter Moylan and Luiz Gohara to the bullpen. McCarthy and Moylan will begin their respective Minor League rehab assignments next week. Gohara's recent left shoulder problems were not an issue, as he completed 3 2/3 scoreless innings for Gwinnett on Thursday night.
"We've been doing a good job of spacing guys out and doing a good job of keeping guys to compete with every night," Snitker said. "We were in position [Thursday] night. We went into the ninth inning with a lead."