Demoted to minors, Braves’ Muller vows to ‘get back as soon as possible’

Braves starting pitcher Kyle Muller reacts after giving up a grand slam to Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jesse Winker during the second inning.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Braves starting pitcher Kyle Muller reacts after giving up a grand slam to Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jesse Winker during the second inning. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Two weeks ago, rookie Kyle Muller had an impressive ERA of 2.43 and appeared entrenched in the Braves’ injury-depleted starting pitching rotation.

Now, he’s back in the minor leagues.

Muller was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett immediately after a second consecutive poor start Thursday, the Braves again showing an inclination to make changes quickly amid a tight National League East race.

“It’s a business, and I had a really great opportunity (Thursday) to prove myself to the organization,” Muller said. “We needed a win to stay tied for first place, and I didn’t show up. I understand that’s part of the game.

“I’m going to go down there and get my work in and get back up as soon as possible.”

The 6-foot-7 left-hander lasted only 2-1/3 innings in the start that led to his demotion, allowing six earned runs on five hits (including a grand slam) and three walks as the Braves lost to Cincinnati 12-3 to slip -- at least for a day -- from a first-place tie to third place in the NL East.

In nine games, eight of them starts, with the Braves this season, Muller has a 2-4 record and a 4.17 ERA (2.88 before Thursday). He allowed one run or fewer in five of his first six starts, an impressive stretch even though didn’t pitch deeper than 5-2/3 innings in any of the games. Then he struggled in his past two starts, working a combined seven innings and allowing nine earned runs on seven hits and five walks with four strikeouts.

“Still a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said. But he also said he has been “definitely encouraged” overall by the experiences of his rookie season.

“That’s something I’ve been dreaming my whole life of doing, pitching in the major leagues,” Muller said. “Being able to have some success early and know what that feels like, and then also have that success just swept out from under my feet (with) a couple of bad outings in a row, that’s definitely something I can learn from. Having these experiences now are only going to help me later on in my career.”

He acknowledged his fastball velocity is down from earlier in the season, attributing the drop to command issues that caused him to “take a little bit off and try to get in the (strike) zone.”

In his second major-league start June 27, Muller allowed only one hit and struck out nine in five scoreless innings against Cincinnati -- the same team whose hitters chased him back to the minors seven weeks later.

“I wasn’t putting anybody away, and my two-strike pitches weren’t good,” Muller said of Thursday’s outing. “I was getting behind in counts. I wasn’t using the heater effectively, so they were just sitting on my slider.”

Even as he returns to the minors, and as the Braves anticipate the return soon of pitchers Huascar Ynoa and Ian Anderson from the injured list and rehab assignments, the organization remains bullish on the 23-year-old Muller’s future.

“It’s just all part of the growth process and the maturation process of a young pitcher,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Most of those guys don’t just arrive as the finished product.

“This has been a great experience for him. As far as he’s come, it’s OK to step back and kind of refine your craft a little bit.”