Braves OK with uncertainty at fifth rotation slot

September 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The landscape was different because the Braves were involved in a division race that wasn’t decided until Game 161. But as we project what these next few weeks might look like, it’s important to remember Atlanta used eight different starting pitchers during the season’s final month last year.  

Jake Odorizzi’s tenure in Atlanta was not what the team expected. But had he not limited the Marlins to one run over five innings during the regular season’s penultimate game, the Braves might not have won a fifth straight National League East. 

As the Braves celebrated a division title following Odorizzi’s effort, Max Fried was at the team hotel still dealing with a virus that cost him 15-plus pounds. Had the Braves not won that night, their choice for the regular season final was either a weakened Fried or Jackson Stephens. 

You never know what the final weeks and months of the season might bring. So, it was certainly encouraging to see Darius Vines impress while making his MLB debut in Wednesday night’s win at Coors Field. Vines became the first visiting pitcher to allow two runs or less while tossing at least six innings while debuting in the offensively friendly stadium.

Spencer Strider, Fried, Charlie Morton and Bryce Elder will continue serving as the base of the rotation and Vines will likely remain in the fifth spot for now. If the Braves need to put somebody else in the fifth spot or just get some of their starters an extra day, they have plenty of other options.

Kyle Wright is still a couple weeks away from being ready to be activated, but he has already made a couple rehab starts. Maybe he doesn’t factor into the plans until October. That’s not necessarily a big deal. He wasn’t on anybody’s radar before he provided his pivotal relief appearance in the 2021 World Series Game 4.  

AJ Smith-Shawver has been sidelined since Aug. 15 with right shoulder discomfort. The likelihood of him being an option this year seems slim. But the Braves could still call upon Michael Soroka, Jared Shuster, Dylan Dodd or possibly even Yonny Chirinos at some point this year. 

Vines, Soroka and eventually Wright give the Braves three solid depth options. Shuster, Dodd and Chirinos might not be needed the remainder of this season. But their presence provides comfort for a team that won a World Series in 2021 with Dylan Lee and Tucker Davidson making starts in the Fall Classic.