Despite rocky start, Shuster's debut 'a dream'

April 2nd, 2023

WASHINGTON -- As the shy and soft-spoken progressed through Spring Training in impressive fashion, he looked unflappable. But the Braves’ top prospect proved human as nerves got the best of him as he made his MLB debut in a 4-1 loss to the Nationals on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

“I told him when he came out, I said, 'You can breathe now,’” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It was good to see how he came in and competed. I’m sure it’s not how he had it drawn up [for his debut]. But to his credit, he got us into the fifth, which was really big in the scheme of things.”

As the Braves packed their bags after suffering their first loss of the season, they possessed a series victory and a relatively fresh bullpen. Shuster struggled through a four-run first inning, but he settled down to work into the fifth inning. Consequently, Atlanta’s pitching staff should be at full strength entering Monday’s series opener in St. Louis.

“It wasn’t the start he wanted and not the one we pictured,” Braves catcher Sean Murphy said. “But he showed a lot of guts. He almost got through five [innings] for us and put up a bunch of zeroes after the first. He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to come back. I wish we could have [rallied] for the kid. But it was great. Lots to build off of.”

Shuster allowed four runs on six hits and five walks over 4 2/3 innings. The 24-year-old lefty allowed each of the first six batters he faced to reach via a hit or a walk, but then he retired 12 of his final 17 hitters.

While the finish was promising, the performance didn’t live up to the expectations Braves fans likely had for him. Shuster’s four-seam fastball averaged just 90.1 mph and he threw his slider just five times. As for the changeup, the Nationals whiffed with five of the 13 swings taken against the pitch.

“[The nerves] were definitely there, but overall, I felt good out there." Shuster said. "I’ve just got to make some better pitches.”

With Kyle Wright on the injured list until at least April 11 and Max Fried set to go on the injured list within the next couple days, the Braves need Shuster to build off this debut and prove more efficient when he likely faces the Padres on Friday night in Atlanta.

“Adversity is big in this game,” Snitker said. “How he regrouped like that, I thought was really good. He can get that one behind him. That’s a big moment.”

This was the moment Shuster had anxiously awaited since the Braves took him in the first round of the 2020 MLB Draft. The Wake Forest product shined as he faced the regulars from the Pirates, Red Sox and Mets during a strong Grapefruit League season. But pitching under the Florida sun in March doesn’t compare to truly pitching in The Show.

Shuster allowed a pair of singles within his first four pitches and then missed the strike zone with 10 of the next 15 pitches. He issued three walks before recording an out. How unexpected was this? Well, he didn’t issue more than three walks in any of the 27 appearances (25 starts) he combined to make for Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last year.

“I was excited to get out there,” Shuster said. “That first inning, I wanted it to go a little better. But after that, I kind of settled in and got a couple zeroes. I felt good with how I finished.”

Shuster didn’t get the results he wanted, but he still savored the thrill of his first game as a big leaguer.

“It was super cool,” Shuster said. “It was just a dream to be out there.”