Braves notes: Kevin Pillar’s veteran presence, two pitchers throw well, Soroka update

Braves outfielder Kevin Pillar rushes back to the clubhouse during Braves spring training at CoolToday Park, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, in North Port, Fla.. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Braves outfielder Kevin Pillar rushes back to the clubhouse during Braves spring training at CoolToday Park, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, in North Port, Fla.. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Early in his career in Toronto, Kevin Pillar spent tons of time with veterans like Rajai Davis, Troy Tulowitzki, José Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnación. In San Francisco, as an older player, he learned about a winning culture from Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria.

Now, he’s one of those veterans.

“I was around really good, older guys, veteran guys my career and (they) helped me out a lot,” said Pillar, a Braves outfielder. “I’m fortunate to still be playing, going on season 10 for me. I’ve learned a lot in my career, and I’m not shy about sharing the things that I’ve learned, the failures I’ve experienced in this game, the successes I’ve had, and I feel like it’s my obligation to come in and share the knowledge that I’ve learned in this game and continue to learn from from guys around me.”

During their five-year run as National League East champions, the Braves have had a great veteran presence. From Nick Markakis to Tyler Flowers to Matt Joyce and others, president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos infused the club with veterans.

On the field, they may be major contributors – or they might play smaller roles. In the clubhouse, they are seen as positive influences. They go about their business correctly. They set an example. Younger players learn from them.

As much as anything, this might be one of Pillar’s best cases for a spot on the opening-day roster. He seems to be like many of the players they’ve fielded over the years.

“They’re awesome,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I think it’s very important when you filter in high-quality-makeup guys, like he is, that are ballplayers. They get it, they respect the game, they play the game the right way, they know how to prepare. And when you sprinkle that in with a lot of your young guys, it’s a really good mix.”

The 34-year-old Pillar is among the outfielders competing for a roster spot. He had a nice year for the Mets in 2021, but injuries derailed his 2022 season. But he believes he still has more left in him.

On Thursday, Pillar went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in the Braves’ 6-2 win over the Mets at Clover Park. Two days before this, he blasted a two-run homer and drove in three runs versus the Twins in Fort Myers.

Pillar is pleased with how he feels.

“Coming to a new environment, you naturally try to do a little too much,” Pillar said. “I wasn’t really happy with where I was at two weeks ago and just stayed with it.”

Pillar’s biggest strength might be his makeup – the baseball term for “character.” He could be another great piece of the Braves’ clubhouse, which seems like a positive environment.

The game, Pillar said, has changed. The veteran player-young player relationship is different nowadays.

“It used to be about making the younger guys as uncomfortable as humanly possible because that was kind of a rite of passage,” he said. “And now you understand those guys help you win games, and they’re impactful, and it’s not just the guys that are going to be on the 26-man roster.

“These guys that are in the clubhouse with us every single day in spring training, the guys that make this long road trip, we all got to be pulling on the same rope. This place has been unbelievable from the moment I walked in and embraced me with open arms.”

He then added:

“I could say the same for everyone that’s been here. They have one goal in mind: It’s to win. It’s not to make guys feel young or that they can’t play at this level. It’s trying to get guys as good as they can be and know that at some point there’s gonna be a lot of guys that are going to come in this clubhouse and help this team win and reach their ultimate goal.”

Allard and Dodd pitch well

Kolby Allard started Thursday’s outing with a weird pitch-clock violation because of a mix-up with the PitchCom pitch-calling system.

It didn’t foreshadow the rest of his afternoon – at all.

Allard threw three hitless innings in his second start of the spring. He struck out three batters and walked one.

“I thought I did a good job of kind of establishing the zone early and throwing strikes and kind of putting the guys on their heels a little bit,” Allard said.

Dylan Dodd, the Braves’ No. 10 prospect on MLB Pipeline, followed with 2-1/3 frames of scoreless ball. The lefty struck out four batters – and didn’t issue a walk – while allowing three hits.

“I’ve loved that guy, from the first time I saw him throw, just the live (batting practice),” Snitker said. “Just the command of the strike zone, the stuff is really good. He’s got a good mix, and he throws strikes.”

Soroka should throw off a mound soon

Michael Soroka, who has been dealing with a left hamstring ailment, said he expects to throw off a mound in the next couple of days.

“We’re just trying to check the boxes,” he said of his daily work.

The Braves have been cautious with Soroka. He said he’s started a running progression.

Soroka said he’s been throwing on flat ground for around two weeks to keep his arm ready until he can advance to throwing off a mound.

“I need to make sure it’s gone,” he said. “We’re not risking pushing things a couple days early to potentially set things back again. There’s no point in that. There’s no frustration, there’s just the way forward. That’s it.”

White homers

Eli White, who has made offensive adjustments, blasted a two-run homer off Mets starter Carlos Carrasco in Thursday’s win.

White is among the outfielders competing to make the team.

Luplow swinging

Outfielders Jordan Luplow, who entered camp with right oblique soreness, is still behind, but he’s beginning to swing the bat. Snitker said Luplow has taken batting practice.

Like Pillar and White, Luplow is another outfielder who’s in the mix for an opening-day roster spot.

About the Author