Braves notes: Austin Riley’s adjustment, Kolby Allard’s lessons and more

NORTH PORT, Fla. — Braves third baseman Austin Riley hopes to take one big adjustment into the 2023 season.

When he’s hitting, he wants to keep his front elbow bent as he works through the strike zone, instead of having it extended all the way out.

“When I’m doing that,” he said recently, “I’m at my best.”

As Riley explained it, keeping the elbow bent gives him more time and a larger chance of barreling up a ball. When that elbow is extended – he called it “arm-barred” – he’s more exposed and needs more of a specific outcome (with how his bat heads toward the ball) to make great contact.

Some players, Riley said, can regularly bend their elbow in their swing without much thought. He pointed to Ronald Acuña as someone who consistently does it. So, too, does Cardinals star Nolan Arenado, he said. And former teammate Dansby Swanson does it here and there.

It’s always been tougher for Riley to repeat this in his swing, though.

“For me, I don’t have the adjustability in my swing,” Riley said. “That’s the main thing I’ve been working on.”

Riley played at an MVP level last summer. He believes he can be that guy consistently going forward.

In Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener versus the Red Sox – a 6-6 tie after Braves minor-league infielder Cal Conley was charged with the final strike on a pitch-clock violation – Riley went 0-for-2 with a strikeout.

Allard learned how to bounce back

Kolby Allard, who started Saturday’s exhibition opener for the Braves, has pitched in parts of the past five seasons but hasn’t established much consistency in the majors.

His struggles have come with lessons.

“I think I’ve just learned to slow the game down a little bit,” he said. “A lot of people talk about young guys, the game speeding up on them. I never dealt with a ton of failure until I got to the big leagues. Learning how to do that and learning how to bounce back after getting your teeth punched in a little bit has been kind of the biggest thing for me.

“Being able to go out there and kind of just slow down and execute pitches, not worry about a lot of external opinions, options – a lot of other things that come from the outside. Just kind of slowing the game down and focusing on myself a little bit more.”

Allard allowed one run on three hits over two innings. He struck out one batter.

This spring, Allard is fighting for a roster spot, though he seems to be on the outside looking in, barring injury. Still, he’s a depth piece for the Braves, who deployed 11 starting pitchers (not counting opener Jesse Chavez) last season.

Allard hopes he can carry his big-league experience into this season.

“I think just learning how to put the next foot in front of the other, and just keep going, keep getting better, keep pressing to get better, is just the main thing,” he said.

Dodd strikes out three batters

These days, Braves fans are wondering which minor-league player will be the next breakout prospect.

Lefty Dylan Dodd is the club’s No. 13 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. In Saturday’s game, he threw two quick scoreless innings, striking out three batters.

“He was good,” manager Brian Snitker said. “That’s exactly what I’ve been watching in all the (simulated) games and stuff like that, is just a guy that threw strikes. That’s really good, a young guy that goes out and pounds that strike zone like that.”

Dodd began last year at High-A Rome and ended at Triple-A Gwinnett. He struck out 153 batters over 142 innings.

A lineup full of regulars

The Braves didn’t open exhibition play with their opening-day lineup, but they gave fans a nice show.

Acuña (leadoff), Matt Olson (second), Riley (third), Eddie Rosario (fourth), Ozzie Albies (fifth) and Michael Harris (sixth) started. Vaughn Grissom (seventh) started at shortstop.

Snitker had alluded to doing this. Most of his players have been here working out for almost two weeks and were itching to get into a game.

The manager made it sound like the Braves would not be sending their regulars to Tampa for Sunday’s game against the Yankees.