Braves Dispatch: Extra rest for Reynaldo López and Chris Sale has been big win

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Reynaldo López reacts after the final out of the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Truist Park, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Reynaldo López reacts after the final out of the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Truist Park, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Hey there,

When asked about Reynaldo López recently, Braves president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos said something that I thought provided a look into how the Braves are approaching this summer.

“We did notice the last few years, our guys did run out of gas, a little bit,” Anthopoulos said. “And there were some times where – it’s not something we’re gonna advertise to the media – guys were sore and so on, but they would pitch through it. But it felt like when we got to the postseason – and I don’t want to assume the playoffs, but something needed to change. And that year that we chased down the Mets, we had a 20-game stretch – 20 games in a row – we wanted to insert an extra starter, we just weren’t in the position to do it. We just thought at the end of the day, it caught up to us, both times.”

In 2022 and 2023, the Braves were sent home by the Phillies in the first round. The narrative centered around their elite offense’s inability to wake up after five days off following the conclusion of the regular season. But the Braves’ starting pitchers had their troubles.

Max Fried was ill two postseasons ago, and then dealt with a blister last year. Two years ago, Spencer Strider suffered an oblique strain. Charlie Morton injured his finger at the end of last season.

The Braves could enter this October with a better rotation than they’ve had in each of the last two postseasons. But that idea depends on something:

Will Reynaldo López and Chris Sale be healthy and fresh?

We’ll start here: The Braves have no plans to shut down anyone, Anthopoulos said. “And barring any health issues, guys are going to make their starts,” he added. That seems to mean López won’t head to the bullpen to manage his workload.

And since Anthopoulos took over before the 2018 season, the Braves haven’t used innings limits. Pitcher injuries have plagued the game this season, but the answer to them is unclear.

“There’s a myriad of examples across the game, guys that were protected and still got hurt,” Anthopoulos said. “No one’s been able to find the solution there. We don’t know that it works, so we don’t subscribe to it. That doesn’t mean that it’s not the best way, but we haven’t done it.”

A good example here: In 2020, Max Fried hurled 56 innings during the shortened season. Then he threw 193-1/3 innings between the regular season and World Series run in 2021. And then in 2022, he didn’t regress or get hurt – he finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting.

Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg and Joba Chamberlain are three examples of guys who had innings limits at some point in their careers. They still suffered injuries.

So, what the Braves have done is this: They’ve built in extra rest for their starters, something that’s especially beneficial to López and Sale. Lopez, a reliever for the last few seasons, has already thrown more innings than he did in any season since the start of 2020. Sale entered this season having tossed only 151 innings since the start of 2020.

“We do think rest and recovery are important, no doubt about it,” Anthopoulos said. “We don’t have any clarity or certainty that shutting guys down is the answer either, so we’ve elected not to do that.”

The Braves have set this up well.

After López’s first start of the season, he didn’t pitch again for a week. Then he waited another week to start after that. And then his fourth start came eight days after the third one. López, who on Wednesday made his 13th start, has pitched on regular rest only once: He started on May 25 after pitching on May 20. Otherwise, he’s received at least one day of extra rest between each start – and he owns a 1.57 ERA, the best mark in the major leagues among qualified starters.

How beneficial has this been for López?

“Yeah, I think it’s helped a lot, to be honest,” he said through interpreter Franco García. “And I just want to express my gratitude just for the way the organization has been handling those extra days of rest. I feel like I’ve really appreciated the approach that we’ve taken into considering the extra days (of) rest and how helpful that’s been. I imagine that the day will come that I eventually hit the regular rotation, where I start pitching every five days. But I think it’s been very beneficial and I’m just very appreciative that they’ve put so much attention and focus on trying to get that extra rest for me.”

Sale hasn’t started on regular rest all season. He’s had at least one extra day in all of his turns through the rotation. And through 13 starts, he has a 2.98 ERA.

The Braves have helped López and Sale by building in that extra rest. Combined with off days, they recently deployed a six-man rotation for a couple turns through the rotation.

“I think it’s been good to concentrate on those guys, because they’re the priority guys for us – and keeping them healthy and strong,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Both of them, not coming off full seasons in a few years, I think we were very aware of that going forward. I think we’ve done a good job. At some point, we’re gonna need them to go and I think they’ll be ready to do that.”

As the Braves progress through the summer, with their sights set on October, they know they must prioritize the health of their starting pitchers, who will be important in achieving the ultimate goal. They’ll be creative as they keep those arms fresh.

One thing they will not do?

“We’re not going to say, ‘You’re at 130 innings, you’re taking two weeks off, you’re taking a month off,’” Anthopoulos said. “We’ve seen some teams do that – send guys down to the minors, bring them back. There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. We have no plans to do that, so this is a way to be proactive.”

Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna hits a double during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Truist Park, Monday, June 17, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Extra Innings

* In the clubhouse on Wednesday, Zack Short held a bat. It belonged to Marcell Ozuna.

Well, actually, Short now owns it after Ozuna gifted one to him and another to Forrest Wall.

“He yells at me every day because I have cupped bats, which for me, it makes it a little bit lighter (on top),” Short said. “But on the other hand, it makes it harder and heavier down here (toward the bottom).”

A cupped bat has an indentation at the end of the barrel. Ozuna’s bats aren’t cupped, so they’re heavier toward the end of the barrel.

Ozuna kept busting Short’s chops about his bat.

“Yes, that’s exactly what he was doing,” Short said.

And so eventually, Ozuna offered one of his bats to Short.

“So, what am I gonna do, say no to him?” Short said.

Short accepted the bat. The gesture is another example of Ozuna being a terrific teammate.

“He’s great,” Short said. “I’m telling you: Since the first day that I got here, he has been nothing but great. He’s in on every pitch – offense, defense. He is backing you up, no matter what. He’s that top guy on the step every inning. He’s great. And if you ever have any questions with him, he loves talking hitting at any time. He has been nothing but great to me since I’ve been here.”

* On Monday, Joe Jiménez earned his first save in a Braves uniform. A neat layer to it: It came against his former team, the Tigers.

Jimémez has the ball from Monday’s save – his first save since 2022, when he played for Detroit. He’d been keeping the ball in his locker.

The save meant a lot to him.

“It was huge,” he told me. “To be honest, I didn’t think that I was gonna close another game in my career. Obviously, coming from Detroit, my last save was in 2022. I didn’t think I was gonna close. Obviously, we’ve got a closer and we’ve got so many good guys that have been closers too, so it’s just like, I’m gonna do the job wherever they put me. But it was special. It was special.”

* Wednesday’s win over Detroit marked Atlanta’s fifth sweep of the season. The Braves hadn’t swept a team since May 7-8 against Boston – over a month ago.

This is amazing. It shows how well the Braves began the season.

They had four sweeps in the first month and week of the year. And though they struggled for a month-plus before this homestand, they still have five sweeps two and a half months into their season.