NORTH PORT, Fla. — If A.J. Minter has a successful 2023 season, he already knows why: He kept the walks to a minimum. Minter said his goal is to issue the fewest walks among major-league relievers this season. He finished 18th in walks per nine innings among qualified relievers a season ago.
“If I keep the walks down, everything else will fall into place,” Minter told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.
This will be Minter’s seventh season. He had his ups and downs before establishing himself as one of the game’s better high-leverage southpaws.
Since 2020, Minter has a 2.50 ERA with a 175:44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 144 innings (158 games). He’s allowed only eight home runs in that span (0.5 per nine innings). He’s been an integral part of three decorated bullpens and an asset during four of the team’s five consecutive division titles (a troublesome 2019 being the exception).
“He’s a good story,” manager Brian Snitker said of Minter. “It’d be great to have him talk to our minor leaguers about his journey, getting sent back down and the things he went through in his career to get where he is right now, which is one of the better relievers in the game.”
Last season was Minter’s finest. He produced a 2.1 fWAR, which ranked best on the Braves and fifth in the majors. The only relievers who fared better: Edwin Diaz of the Mets (3.0), Emmanuel Clase of the Guardians (2.4), Devin Williams of the Brewers (2.2) and Evan Phillips of the Dodgers (2.2). Minter’s 1.93 walks per nine innings ranked better than each of those players besides Clase (1.24).
Even Minter thinks it’s odd that he’s the bullpen’s elder statesman. “I feel like it’s my second year,” he said. In fact, only two current Braves debuted for the team before Minter in August 2017: second baseman Ozzie Albies and starter Max Fried, who both arrived earlier that month.
Roster turnover is inevitable, but the Braves have only four relievers remaining from their beloved 2021 championship bullpen: Dylan Lee, Jesse Chavez (who’s on a minor-league deal), Tyler Matzek (who’s out for the season following Tommy John surgery) and Minter.
Minter stays in touch with his former bullpen mates, such as Luke Jackson, Will Smith and Darren O’Day. He said they helped him emerge into the pitcher he’s become. And while Minter acknowledges it can be challenging connecting to new teammates – he’s a shier person – that process is well underway. (On new reliever Nick Anderson, for instance, Minter said, “He’ll fit in perfectly.”)
Minter made his spring debut Wednesday against the World Baseball Classic’s Dominican Republic team. He allowed a pair of two-out singles against Ketel Marte and Jean Segura, but struck out three in a scoreless inning.
Dodd gets experience vs. All-Stars
Lefty Dylan Dodd has been a pleasant surprise in a short sample size. He started Wednesday against the WBC Dominican Republic team – no easy task considering the club’s loaded lineup. But Dodd fared well for two innings before coming unraveled in the third. “I thought he held himself OK,” Snitker said.
In the first inning, Dodd surrendered a leadoff single to Julio Rodriguez. He responded by striking out Rafael Devers, getting Manny Machado to fly out to center and coaxed Teoscar Hernandez into a groundout.
After a clean second frame, the Dominican Republic team tagged Dodd for five earned runs, four of which scored with two outs. The big blow came from former Brave Robinson Cano, who smashed a three-run blast.
Before that inning, Dodd had pitched 6-1/3 scoreless innings, with nine strikeouts and no walks this spring. The explosive third inning, of course, began with Dodd issuing a leadoff walk to Willy Adames. He walked three in the frame (Adames, Machado and Gary Sanchez).
“After the second inning, I was feeling pretty good,” Dodd said. “Then I got humbled quick.”
It was valuable experience for the 24-year-old, a non-roster invitee who could make his major-league debut sometime this season after jumping three levels in 2022 and finishing the season in Triple-A.
“They have some of the best talent in the world, and getting this opportunity to face them was pretty cool for me,” Dodd said. “I fell behind hitters there in that third inning. They’re really good, and they made me pay.”
Jimenez gives up two home runs
Reliever Joe Jimenez, acquired from Detroit in the offseason, made his second spring appearance Wednesday. He recorded only one out and was charged four earned runs on three hits (two homers). Veteran Nelson Cruz and minor leaguer Jeremy Celedonio took Jimenez deep.
“It wasn’t real crisp,” Snitker said. “But it was just good to get him back out there. He’s been down here throwing and doing all the work and everything. The more he gets out there, the better he’ll be.”
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