Who will be the No. 5 starter? Dodd puts together case

March 25th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- While producing one of this spring’s top underdog stories and positioning himself for a possible spot within the Braves’ rotation, has seemingly become one of the most famous products of Bismarck, Ill. -- a small town near the Indiana border that has a population of 589.

Dodd estimated it at closer to 450, but that may just include the citizens who have reached out to him over the past couple of weeks. The folks of Bismarck, and countless Braves fans, have enjoyed watching the young southpaw push himself toward the brink of the Majors. 

“They’re eating it up,” Dodd said after the Braves' 9-8 loss to Boston on Friday. “They’re having fun with it. And I appreciate them.”

Dodd and Braves top prospect Jared Shuster have created an entertaining and tight battle since unexpectedly being given a chance to fight for the only vacancy within Atlanta’s rotation. After Shuster produced his latest gem against most of the Mets’ regulars on Thursday, Dodd answered the bell on Friday and impressed against what could be Boston’s Opening Day lineup.

“Every time I’ve seen him since his first live batting practice, he has been good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He has tremendous mound presence and knows how to slow the game down. It’s been very impressive.”

Dodd allowed the Red Sox three runs and eight hits and two walks over five-plus innings. The southpaw recorded three of his five strikeouts while pitching around a Rafael Devers double and a walk in the first inning. He has consistently gotten ahead of hitters, but he fell behind Justin Turner before the veteran third baseman drilled a two-run homer on a 2-0 fastball in the third. Dodd then pitched around two singles in both of the next two innings before exiting after Adam Duvall doubled to begin the sixth.

Shuster seems to be the favorite to get what stands as the only vacant spot within Atlanta’s rotation. But Dodd is fine with whatever decision is made, knowing he now has to be ready for the Majors whether he gets the call next week or at some other point this season.

“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” Dodd said. “I'm just trying to take it in and enjoy it as much as I can. It’s kind of hard to do sometimes with so much on the line. But when I lay down at night, I really try to take a moment and enjoy it. I’m excited for whatever outcome happens.”

Shuster is Atlanta's top prospect per MLB Pipeline, and Dodd ranks as the club’s No. 10 prospect. But neither were legit rotation candidates until their early spring performances were so impressive that the Braves optioned Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder, who both have big league experience.

How close has the battle between Shuster and Dodd been?

Shuster: 18 2/3 IP, 1.45 ERA, 7 hits, 3 earned runs, 1 HR, 18 strikeouts, 4 walks
Dodd: 18 IP, 2.00 ERA, 15 hits, 4 earned runs, 2 HR, 20 strikeouts, 4 walks

Dodd’s statistics don’t include how he fared on March 8, when he accepted the daunting task of starting against the powerful Dominican Republic lineup in a World Baseball Classic tune-up game. He breezed through two scoreless innings in that outing and then ran into trouble in the third.

With just four more days left before the Braves head north, Dodd won’t make another Grapefruit League start. There’s a chance Shuster could start Tuesday’s spring finale against the Red Sox. There is also a possibility both Dodd and Shuster could end up starting a game against Minor Leaguers in anticipation of making a start during a three-game series against the Cardinals from April 3-5.

Because both are non-roster players, neither has to be optioned at the end of camp. This means either player would be eligible to be promoted at any point within the first few days of the regular season.

The Braves will likely use , and as their starting pitchers during the season-opening series at Nationals Park. Shuster or Dodd could make their MLB debut when the team then travels to St. Louis to begin a three-game series on April 3.

Kyle Wright came to camp behind schedule because of previous right shoulder soreness, but his schedule lines him up to start the fifth or sixth game, depending on whether Fried is given an extra day of rest between his first and second starts.

If the team determines Wright needs more time, Shuster and Dodd could both make a start during that St. Louis series. But with both being non-roster guys, this might require the Braves to make an uncomfortable 40-man decision.