Braves bolster pitching staff by signing Collin McHugh

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Collin McHugh throws a pitch to the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Credit: AP

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Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Collin McHugh throws a pitch to the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Credit: AP

General manager Alex Anthopoulos is wasting no time in improving the Braves’ roster.

NORTH PORT, Fla. - Alex Anthopoulos admitted he is sometimes losing track of the days – though he guessed correctly that this was Tuesday. He’s physically in Florida for spring training, but is mentally in offseason mode.

“I’m running on fumes a little bit,” the Braves’ general manager said on Zoom. “I’m probably running on two hours of sleep, and I’d like to just try to set the roster and fill some of these gaps so we can get going and get guys ready and healthy.”

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Hours after holding a press conference to announce first baseman Matt Olson’s contract extension – the most lucrative deal in Braves history – Anthopoulos signed right-hander Collin McHugh to a two-year deal worth $10 million guaranteed. The contract features a $6 million club option for 2024, with a $1 million buyout.

The 34-year-old McHugh posted a 1.55 ERA over 64 innings with the Rays last season. That marked the fourth-lowest ERA in the majors among pitchers with as many innings in 2021.

McHugh’s 2.11 ERA as a reliever since 2018 is the second lowest in the majors for pitchers with at least 100 innings in that span. The only guy he’s trailing in that category: Right-hander Kirby Yates, whom the Braves signed before the lockout. (Yates is going through Tommy John rehab, and the Braves are thinking he could return in August).

“He's a legit late-inning reliever that can do other things," Anthopoulos said of McHugh.

McHugh, who started seven games for Tampa Bay, can be an opener. He can pitch late in games. He can go multiple innings.

In 2021, McHugh posted five three-inning appearances. He pitched at least two innings 16 other times. His 23-inning scoreless streak tied for the fourth-longest such streak in Rays history.

The Braves sought a late-inning righty and found one – and they feel he can do it all.

As of now, the Braves have a core group of five relievers: Lefties Will Smith, Tyler Matzek and A.J. Minter, and righties Luke Jackson and McHugh.

A couple others to note are right-hander Darren O’Day and lefty Sean Newcomb. Anthopoulos said O’Day, in camp on a minor-league deal, has looked good thus far. He added that Newcomb will receive every opportunity to make the team because he’s out of minor-league options.

“I just want to give Snit as many options as he needs, especially (because) guys are going to need days off and so on,” Anthopoulos said. “Having that balance – right, left – for him to be able to get through lineups and days I think is critically important.”

Added Jackson on the bullpen: “We got a bunch of names in the bullpen now where it used to be a bunch of guys throwing together. It was a bag of misfit toys as we used to call ourselves. Now it’s like there are actual toys down there. It’s a toy store.”

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Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Collin McHugh delivers against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning during Game 4 of a baseball American League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Credit: AP

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Collin McHugh delivers against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning during Game 4 of a baseball American League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Collin McHugh delivers against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning during Game 4 of a baseball American League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

McHugh has a 3.77 career ERA over nine seasons in the majors. Bullpen coach Drew French (formerly in the Astros’ organization) and starting pitcher Charlie Morton (who pitched for them) both raved about McHugh as a teammate, Anthopoulos said.

The righty also can handle both sides of the plate. Over his career, right-and-left-handed hitters have tallied almost the same batting average against him. Last season, he held left-handed hitters to a .163 batting average and right-handed batters to .230.

“Late in the game, throwing strikes and being able to handle both sides is huge,” Anthopoulos said.

The Braves aren’t done. Anthopoulos admitted they’re thin on the position player side. (It seems they need to add to their outfield, as they probably won’t have Ronald Acuña until late May).

Anthopoulos said he remains active and would like to round out the roster as quickly as possible. Spring training games begin Friday, which doesn’t leave the GM much time.

“I want to just get to Friday already and be done – if we can,” Anthopoulos said.