Braves notes: Austin Riley’s tough balance, Sean Murphy’s plan

Braves third baseman Austin Riley (27) is seen in the dugout as the Braves face the Chicago Cubs 
at Truist Park on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Miguel Martinez/ AJC)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Braves third baseman Austin Riley (27) is seen in the dugout as the Braves face the Chicago Cubs at Truist Park on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Miguel Martinez/ AJC)

CHICAGO – Austin Riley’s makeup – the baseball term for character – is part of the reason he is so valuable to a team. His love of baseball and desire to be a great teammate make him so intent on playing every day – unless he absolutely cannot or should not.

And right now, the Braves are remaining cautious with Riley, which is understandable given that it is only May and they need him for the long haul if they want to achieve their goals.

The third baseman, who is working his way back from intercostal inflammation that brought pain to his left side, is doing a great job of being smart.

“This has been driving me nuts,” Riley said ahead of Tuesday’s series opener in Chicago versus the Cubs. “I love being out there competing with the guys. Playing every day to not playing at all, it’s tough for me. But I also understand I want to get this thing right, and not have any setbacks or (have) it pop up again. Let’s get this thing taken care of and then just worry about the rest of the season

You would think this could be a difficult balance for Riley, who believes in playing every day. He wants to be out there, but cannot be out there.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is just really having trust in our staff and lean on them, just the knowledge that they know and everything they’ve seen,” Riley said. “I would definitely try to push it and I’m trying to push it as hard as I can just to get back out there as quick as possible, but like I said, I also know I gotta be smart.”

Riley on Monday fielded ground balls between games of the doubleheader. On Tuesday, he said he was scheduled to swing with someone softly tossing the ball.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s still going to be a while. He’s got to go through the steps.”

Is the injured list still a possibility for Riley?

“It’s always going to be until it’s not, really,” Snitker said. “Just have to wait and see.”

Riley said this has been frustrating because of how long it’s taking. But he’s doing the correct thing by being smart.

The Braves need him.

“I told him I was glad that Sunday in New York when he came up and he sat,” Snitker said. “I think he thought in his mind he could probably get through it, then he saw what happened to (Sean Murphy). When you try and do that and it goes bad on you, it’s a significant amount of time.”

Murphy’s back with a bang

Murphy began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett Tuesday. The catcher is working to return from a left oblique strain.

Snitker said he expected the plan to be for Murphy to play four innings on Tuesday, then get a day off on Wednesday, then he should play five or six on Thursday, then play as the designated hitter.

“I think he did everything he could possibly do in preparation for this and everybody feels really good where he’s at, physically, and the whole thing, to start him on this,” Snitker said.

But Murphy on Tuesday caught seven innings, which is a great sign. It was also the first time Murphy has faced live pitching. But you couldn’t tell.

He homered on his first at-bat since opening day. He went 1-for-3 with that 449-foot homer, a walk and two runs scored.

Murphy has been out since leaving the first game of the season due to the injury. This is why Riley must be so careful.

‘Everything is going to be on the table’ for pitching options

The Braves need starting pitchers on Thursday and Friday. Darius Vines is up and could start one of those games if he goes unused out of the bullpen, but the Braves haven’t announced anything.

One move they could make: If they feel like Riley might need time to progress through his swinging build-up, they could place him on the injured list. This would allow them to bring up anyone.

This way, they could recall Bryce Elder or Ray Kerr – just as examples – without either having to spend the required 15 days in the minors after being optioned.

“Everything is going to be on the table and an option quite honestly,” Snitker said. “Just getting through this road trip.”

Asked if the Braves have ruled out Kerr pitching on Thursday or Friday, Snitker said: “It just depends on what happens prior to getting there. I like what he did and everything. We got him a little further stretched, so that’s good.”