ATLANTA -- Ender Inciarte has returned from his two-month absence, but the Braves’ three-time Gold Glove Award winner will now have to adapt to a backup role.
“Just filling in,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Thursday, when asked how he plans to use Inciarte. “I’m going to play him today. We could use him at some point to give Ronald [Acuna Jr.] a day off. I’m not going to feel like I’m forced to get him in. We’ll just see how it works out.”
Before Thursday night’s series opener against the Nationals, the Braves activated Inciarte from the 10-day injured list and recalled Kyle Wright from Triple-A Gwinnett. Both were immediately thrown into the starting lineup. Right-handed pitchers Bryse Wilson and Huascar Ynoa were optioned to Gwinnett.
Filling the rotation void created when Max Fried was placed on the injured list earlier this week, Wright made his first MLB start since April 12. Inciarte got the start in center field and Acuna transitioned back to left field, while Austin Riley got a night off.
“It’s good to have options on the team,” Inciarte said. “I don’t know how they’re going to play it. I’m here, and I’ll be ready to play. I’m just glad I’m healthy and back.”
While Inciarte might primarily be used as a late-inning defensive replacement, the Braves will likely give him at least a couple starts a week over the remainder of the month. They need to get a better feel for the offensive capabilities of the former All-Star. At the same time, there’s always a chance a team could be intrigued enough to accept the veteran outfielder as part of a package before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
Inciarte is owed a little less than $2 million over the remainder of this season, $7 million in 2020 and $8 million in '21. His $9 million club option for '22 includes a $1.025 million buyout. This deal looked like it might be a bargain when the 28-year-old outfielder tallied 201 hits and earned an All-Star selection in 2017.
Concerns about the long-term value of the deal grew this year as Inciarte batted .218 and compiled a .300 on-base percentage over the 40 games he played before being placed on the injured list on May 15 with a lumbar strain.
If Inciarte were playing on an everyday basis, it can be argued his defense provides enough value to compensate for a healthy portion of his cost. But it’s harder to justify the cost beyond this year if he were to remain in a backup role.
Riley significantly improved the Braves’ lineup when he took Inciarte’s place two months ago. But as the 21-year-old slugger has struck out in 43.8 percent of his at-bats over his past 13 games, he’s at least given the team reason to keep all of its options open, including possibly eventually moving Inciarte back to a starting role.
With two off-days next week, the Braves have the option to go with a seven-man bullpen to maintain a roster spot for Inciarte. But at some point, the team may be forced to option either Johan Camargo or Riley, if his slump extends over the next couple weeks.
Because Wright had started last Friday for Gwinnett, the Braves opted to bring him up to start with just one extra day of rest Thursday. One alternative would have been to have him wait until Saturday to take the turn previously reserved by Fried, who will miss at least one start with a blister.
Instead, the Braves opted to push Thursday’s scheduled starter, Julio Teheran, and Friday’s scheduled starter, Mike Soroka, back one day. Kevin Gausman will return from the injured list to start Sunday night’s series finale.