Before claiming a 4-2 win over the Rays on Sunday afternoon at CoolToday Park, the Braves announced Duvall, right-handed starter Touki Toussaint and right-handed reliever Dan Winkler were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. Manager Brian Snitker provided clarity about the Opening Day roster when he confirmed Wright and Wilson will be included.
After Julio Teheran makes his sixth consecutive Opening Day start Thursday, Wilson will make his second career start when the Braves and Phillies resume their three-day series Saturday. Wright will be making his first career start in front of the national television audience that tunes in to see ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball's first broadcast of the season.
“We talked about the depth early in camp,” Snitker said. “We didn’t know we’d be dipping into it this early, but it’s good we have all those guys. They have all pitched really well. I feel good about it. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
MLB Pipeline ranks Wright as the game’s 30th-best prospect and the second-best prospect in Atlanta’s system. The 23-year-old hurler allowed more than two runs in just one of his five Grapefruit League appearances. Wilson, who ranks as baseball’s 81st-best prospect and the seventh-best prospect in Atlanta’s system spent the past couple weeks impressing the Braves and opponents with the development of what may now be a very effective slider.
With Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman set to begin the season on the injured list, the Braves’ rotation to begin the season will be Teheran, Wilson, Wright, Sean Newcomb and Max Fried. Atlanta wanted to start three right-handers against the Phillies and save its two lefty starts for the Cubs, who will serve as Atlanta’s first home opponent.
Newcomb will start the April 1 home opener, and Teheran will return with an extra day of rest when the Cubs and Braves resume their three-game set April 3. As long as Fried is not used as a long reliever during the first couple games of the homestand, he’ll start the April 4 series finale.
Foltynewicz, who was originally projected to be Atlanta’s Opening Day starter, threw 35 pain-free pitches of batting practice Sunday morning. This was the first time he faced hitters since his right elbow began bothering him following his Feb. 24 spring debut. There’s a chance he’ll be ready during the latter portion of Atlanta’s second homestand (April 11-18).
Gausman is currently slated to be activated from the injured list in time to start the April 6 series opener against the Marlins. The right-hander scattered three hits, issued three walks and threw 78 pitches over 3 1/3 innings Sunday. He admittedly fatigued near the end of his outing, but his previously sore right shoulder did not present any problems.
“The walks are kind of frustrating,” Gausman said. “I’m not there yet, but I’m real close. It was a good step in the right direction.”
Had the Braves released Duvall, they would have owed him approximately $700,000 of his $2.875 million salary. But it wouldn’t have been a $2 million savings because the team would have had to likely commit somewhere between $600,000-$1.5 million to another outfielder.
So instead of gaining what would have been a meager savings, the Braves looked at their MLB-ready outfield depth and determined it was best to remain patient with Duvall, who hit .171 (7-for-41) and tallied just two extra-base hits (a two-homer game on March 3) during the Grapefruit League season. The former All-Star tallied a second consecutive 30-homer season in 2017. But he constructed a .344 OPS over 57 plate appearances after being traded by the Reds to the Braves before last year’s Trade Deadline.
“We’re hoping he can take a deep breath, go back and play every day,” Snitker said. “In the role we had for him, he wasn’t going to get anything more than a pinch-hit at-bat every now and then. He needs to play every day and find his swing again. I’ve seen the guy really, really, really good.”
To account for Duvall’s move, the Braves acquired veteran outfielder Matt Joyce, who went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts in Sunday’s win. Joyce is on a Minor League deal. After Joyce plays in the two remaining exhibition games, team management will decide whether to put him on the Opening Day roster or have him begin the season with Gwinnett.
The Braves will host the Reds at SunTrust Park on Monday at 7:20 p.m. ET, when Josh Donaldson will have a chance to acquaint himself with his new home park. Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr. and most of the other Braves regulars are expected to be in the lineup. Fried will make his final start of the exhibition season.