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Snitker on another short start: 'It's not easy'

Tomlin's 4 1/3-inning outing marks 20th time in 32 games that Atlanta starter hasn't completed 5 innings
@mlbbowman
August 29, 2020

Braves manager Brian Snitker knows his club could benefit from the addition of a starting pitcher. But he did not exit Saturday afternoon’s 4-1 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park feeling overanxious about what his club might do before Monday afternoon’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline. “I don’t

Braves manager Brian Snitker knows his club could benefit from the addition of a starting pitcher. But he did not exit Saturday afternoon’s 4-1 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park feeling overanxious about what his club might do before Monday afternoon’s 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.

“I don’t feel [trade buzz] right now like in the past,” Snitker said. “There just hasn’t been the buildup, industry-wise, like there has been in the past. This has been more like -- I don’t even know when [the Deadline] is.”

Box score

Over these final days leading to the Trade Deadline, Snitker will likely share a few conversations with Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos. But the landscape is certainly much different this year. The expanded playoff format decreases the number of potential sellers, and the shortened season means teams would be trading for just one month’s worth of any potential rentals.

Still, there’s at least reason for the Braves to call the Rangers about Lance Lynn or Mike Minor, who are two of the higher-profile starters who could be available. But while Lynn, Minor, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger have created headlines over the past few weeks, veterans like Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman might be more likely to be moved this year.

“I’ve talked to Alex, but not along those lines [about trades],” Snitker said.

But Atlanta certainly understands the need to focus on fixing its rotation.

Max Fried and Ian Anderson provided a boost when they each produced a six-inning effort during a doubleheader sweep of the Yankees on Wednesday. But reality has since set in as Robbie Erlin lasted four innings in Friday’s series opening loss to the Phillies and Josh Tomlin lasted 4 1/3 innings on Saturday.

Tomlin allowed one unearned run through the first four innings but then surrendered Rhys Hoskins’ decisive three-run homer with one out in the fifth. He was two outs away from receiving a bunch of pats on the back, but the 35-year-old hurler’s exit put the spotlight back on the potential fatal flaw of the first-place Braves.

Atlanta's starters have completed fewer than five innings in 20 of their first 32 games (62.5 percent). Max Fried has accounted for seven of the 12 starts that have lasted at least five innings. The only other Atlanta starter with more than one such start is Mike Soroka, who suffered a season-ending right Achilles tendon injury while making his third start on Aug. 3.

After Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb were demoted, and both Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint showed they were not ready to be reliable big league starters, the Braves were forced to transform Erlin and Tomlin from relievers to starters, despite knowing neither was immediately ready to provide at least five innings.

Erlin has completed four innings in each of his three starts, but as he surrendered a pair of homers in Friday’s series-opening loss to the Phillies, there was reason to remember he had been released earlier this season by the pitching-needy Pirates.

“We might be asking a lot,” Snitker said when asked if Tomlin and Erlin should be used like traditional starters.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking outside the box, especially when this year’s expanded active rosters allow teams to carry more bullpen depth. But even with just 28 games remaining, the question is whether the Braves can sustain their successful pace while digging into the 'pen before the end of the fifth on such a frequent basis.

Potentially more problematic is the fact that the Braves have received fewer than four innings from their starter in more than a third (11 of 32) of their games. An extension of this trend would seemingly eventually have a negative effect on Tyler Matzek and others who are asked to build multiple-inning bridges to the core relief corps on a regular basis.

“I think we’ve done a really good job of keeping things spread out,” Snitker said. “They’ve been really, really effective as we’ve seen. We’ve been more trying to get guys in than staying away from guys, really. We’re going to go through a stretch here in the last month where guys are going to get all they need.”

So can the Braves continue to be successful if their starters continue to give fewer than five innings in three out of every five games?

“It’s not easy,” Snitker said.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.