Top prospect Shuster earns 1st win with best outing yet

May 21st, 2023

ATLANTA -- Jared Shuster’s first two career starts weren’t going to define him, and his last two efforts don’t guarantee future success. But the young Braves left-hander picked a good time to begin showing he’s capable of stabilizing Atlanta’s injury-depleted rotation.

There was plenty of reason for the mild-mannered and shy Shuster to flash a smile after helping the Braves claim a 3-2 win over the Mariners on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park. He constructed the best start of his young career and gave Atlanta hope that it has the internal pieces necessary to persevere without Max Fried and Kyle Wright in the starting rotation for an extended period.  

“It couldn’t have happened really any better if we were to have drawn it up [90 minutes before the game],” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

It appears the Braves are heading in the right direction, as they have won four of six since suffering a fourth straight loss on May 14 in Toronto. Ronald Acuña Jr. continues to do MVP-caliber things at the top of a powerful lineup. As for the rotation, it could be fine if Shuster continues to deliver like he did Sunday, when he claimed his first career victory by limiting the Mariners to one run over a career-high six innings.  

“This was a great moment and a great team win,” Shuster said, while almost cracking a visible smile.

This certainly wasn’t the same nervous Shuster who combined to issue nine walks and allow eight runs in 8 2/3 innings over his first two career starts in early April. 

Instead, this outing was more like what the Braves anticipated from Shuster when he came to spring camp as the team’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline and earned an Opening Day roster spot with a great Grapefruit League season.

Shuster retired 18 of the 21 Mariners he faced and didn’t blink whenever he encountered a hint of trouble. After Jarred Kelenic homered to begin the second, the Braves lefty struck out two of the next three batters he faced. The only other Mariner to reach base through Shuster’s six innings was Jose Caballero, who was hit by a pitch in the third and walked in the sixth.  

“He seemed much more calm,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “Regardless of whether he made a pitch or made a mistake, he tried to stay even-keeled the whole time.”

Shuster has a chance to make a significant impact, as it seems the Braves will be without Fried and Wright through at least early July. The 24-year-old lefty limited the Rangers to three runs over five innings on Tuesday and backed that effort with this more impressive turn against the Mariners.  

Shuster’s 85-pitch effort against Seattle consisted of 29 sliders, 29 four-seam fastballs and 27 changeups. Since the two rough outings he had in April before being sent back to Triple-A Gwinnett, he has seemed to gain confidence in his secondary pitches and the ability to consistently throw them for strikes.  

“I’m just trying my stuff and trusting my catchers and trusting everyone behind me,” Shuster said. “In Triple-A, we work on some things and try to get right. I’m much more comfortable now.”

Shuster’s two starts this week have lessened concerns about one of the two gaps in the Braves’ rotation. The other gap could be filled by Dylan Dodd, another left-handed prospect, as soon as Thursday. But over the past couple of weeks, Atlanta addressed this vacancy with bullpen games. 

Saturday night’s bullpen game left the Braves without the ability to use Jesse Chavez, Michael Tonkin and Kirby Yates on Sunday. But Shuster’s effective journey through six innings aided the depleted relief corps.

Validating Shuster’s strong line was the conclusion of his outing. After issuing his only walk to begin the sixth, he induced consecutive flyouts and then struck out Julio Rodríguez with a 3-2 changeup.  

“He came to Spring [Training] thinking he had no shot of breaking with the team, and he did,” d’Arnaud said. “For him to grow from that is pretty special. Each start, he’s gotten better and better. It’s really good to see him grow.”