NORTH PORT, Fla. — This spring, Jared Shuster has faced a healthy dose of big-league hitters.
His biggest test came Thursday, when the Mets arrived in North Port with what might be the toughest lineup Shuster has seen this spring.
“(Major-league hitters) just kind of have a plan at the plate, and they’re not swinging at bad pitches or anything, so you really gotta make sure to execute them and make some big pitches when you need to,” Shuster said of the difference in minor-league hitters and big-league hitters.
In a 2-2 tie, Shuster allowed two runs on two hits over six innings as he continued making his case for the rotation. He struck out two batters and walked two.
“I feel really good. I didn’t have my best stuff, I don’t think, but still battled and got through six against a really good lineup,” Shuster said.
Added Braves manager Brian Snitker: “It was great, I thought. Really good. Just kept throwing strikes, getting back in the zone. It’s good. Another really strong outing.”
The Mets brought Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, Starling Marte and others expected to play large roles this season. Even without his best slider, Shuster held his own against a (spring training) lineup without many breaks.
“You kind of just gotta stay on the ball every single pitch and stay locked in on every single pitch,” he said. “Not much of a difference from me because I try to do the same thing. Can’t lose focus. No easy outs.
Shuster has surrendered only three runs in 18-2/3 innings in Grapefruit League play. He has 18 strikeouts and four walks.
Shuster has been terrific this spring.
So has lefty Dylan Dodd, who will pitch Friday in Fort Myers.
Snitker made it sound like this is still a competition. At some point, the Braves, as they always do, will have internal discussions about the best way forward.
“Anything can happen,” Snitker said. “I hope (Dodd) pitches every bit as good (as Shuster did).”
The rotation candidates know the decision is out of their hands.
“I’m just super grateful for the opportunity, and (I’m) just going to come in, keep working hard and hopefully just keep pitching well,” Shuster said. “It’s been a great experience. Me and Dylan are having a blast competing against each other. So it’s been awesome.”
New play-by-play man Brandon Gaudin debuts
Thursday marked the debut of new Braves play-by-play man Brandon Gaudin, a lifelong fan of the team. Bally Sports South and Southeast televised the first of four games with Bally Sports’ own crew this spring.
Gaudin’s first impression?
“Barely over two hours,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after his first call in his new gig.
The game lasted 2 hours, 8 minutes. You can thank the pitch clock.
As much as players have had to adjust to it, so will broadcasters.
“I mean, I think that’s what I felt the most was the different rhythm with how fast the game was because I’ve broadcasted so many baseball games without the pitch clock,” Gaudin said. “And even though I’ve watched them the last few weeks, it’s just different when you have the headset on and you realize that you can’t navigate the game the same way you used to.”
The game was so fast that Bally Sports’ production crew even had trouble fitting in the sales elements of the broadcast.
Gaudin said Jeff Francoeur, who’ll be his main analyst, was “so easy to work with.” Even with the pitch clock, most games will not be this fast. But it did provide the broadcast team with some early practice.
“I just think maybe you’re a little more aware of not launching into a story with two outs when a batter’s coming up, like maybe you would have in the past thinking you have a little more time,” Gaudin said. “You maybe say, ‘I’m going to do that with either no outs, or maybe one out.’ I noticed with how quick those outs were being racked up that I was trying to be cautious of when to talk about the rule changes, when to talk about a player a little more in depth.
“I think just like the players through spring training games, as cliché as it sounds, it’s spring training for us, certainly for me. It’s like a rookie spring training baseball game for me. So it’s just going to take a few reps, I’m thankful that we have these four games here before we get going (at the Nationals on March 30) because I think these are going to be invaluable.”
Ronald Acuña Jr. returns to Braves camp
Earlier this month, Ronald Acuña Jr. departed Braves camp for the World Baseball Classic. The United States eliminated Acuña’s Venezuela team in an exciting quarterfinals game, but the superstar still enjoyed his time playing in the tournament.
“It was awesome. Really fun,” Acuña said through interpreter Franco García. “I think it was one of the best (type of games) I’ve been able to play in was to be able to play in the World Baseball Classic.”
Acuña hit .222 with a .564 OPS over 18 at-bats. He hit one double, drove in two runs and stole three bases.
The WBC games could benefit him as he continues to prepare for opening day.
“Yeah, it’s completely different, right?” he said. “Obviously, you’re representing your country, your people, and so yeah, at-bats are completely different, and they have a level of importance to them as opposed to just some spring training at-bats that you’re just kind of trying to get into game-ready shape.”
Braves option Michael Soroka
The Braves on Thursday optioned Michael Soroka to Triple-A Gwinnett.
Soroka on Wednesday made his Grapefruit League debut. He threw 36 pitches over 1-1/3 innings. He allowed two runs, one of them earned.
Soroka came into camp with left hamstring tightness that put him behind. Now, he’s working on building up, with hopes of being in the Braves’ rotation again at some point.
After optioning Soroka, the Braves have 31 players in camp.
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