Braves notes: What Kerr learned from elite hitters, why the wait to activate Johnson

Atlanta Braves pitcher Ray Kerr (58) throws to a Cubs batter in the fifth inning at Truist Park on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)



Atlanta Braves pitcher Ray Kerr (58) throws to a Cubs batter in the fifth inning at Truist Park on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / AJC)

When he played for San Diego over the past two seasons, Ray Kerr would pick his teammates’ brains. He had questions for guys like Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto and Manny Machado. He wanted to know how they thought and which tells they noticed in pitchers.

In talking to those three elite hitters, Kerr also gained perspective.

“Just knowing that, sometimes, hitters are more nervous than we are,” he said. “Soto’s nervous sometimes. Tatis, Manny, they’re all nervous sometimes. That’s why failure happens with everybody. Just realizing that and attacking them regardless of it.”

This was valuable insight for Kerr, a left-handed reliever who is 29 years old but is inexperienced in the major leagues because he didn’t debut until 2022. And he threw only five innings that season. Before this year, he had only 32 big-league frames to his name.

In his current stint with the Braves, Kerr has allowed one earned run over six innings, with six strikeouts and no walks. He’s shown people a glimpse of the stuff that attracted the Braves to him.

It would be understandable for an inexperienced major leaguer to be a bit intimidated by the big names in the game. But through his time around a few of San Diego’s best hitters – and his chats with them – Kerr has learned that, well, they’re just like the rest of us.

This was a valuable lesson.

“It just allowed me to think that everybody is human,” Kerr said. “Everybody is gonna fail in this game. I’m gonna fail. (The batter) might clip me or he might not. Who cares? After the ball leaves my hand, I can’t control it after that.”

The Braves expect Pierce Johnson (right elbow inflammation) to return Saturday, which could mean the end of this big-league stint for Kerr. It seems Kerr or Jackson Stephens would be the odd man out. Kerr has minor-league options and can be sent to Triple-A, but Stephens, who is out of options, would need to be removed from the roster.

On Friday, Kerr’s old teammates arrived on the other side of Truist Park’s tunnel. Soto is now with the Yankees, but Tatis and Machado are still in the lineup.

And now Kerr is with the Braves, who are a perennial contender. Thus far, it’s easy to see why the Braves traded for him last offseason.

Another day for Johnson

On Wednesday, all signs seemed to point to Johnson returning for Friday’s series opener against the Padres. But the Braves decided to wait another day.

Braves manager Brian Snitker said he talked with pitching coach Rick Kranitz during Wednesday’s game.

“We just figured if we give him one more day, then we can use him back to back if we have to,” Snitker said. “If we threw him (Friday), we weren’t going to (use him in back-to-back games). It was an extensive workout the other day, so this won’t be a bad thing to give him one more.”

On Wednesday, Johnson threw a live batting practice session on the Truist Park mound. If he is indeed activated Saturday, he will have had two full days of rest before pitching, which would allow him to also be available Sunday.

Austin Riley steadily improving

Austin Riley was not in Friday’s lineup. This is the fourth game he’s missed.

“He’s better. He’s trending in the right direction,” Snitker said. “We’ll reassess it every day and see where we’re at, and if we don’t need to make a move, then we’re gonna try and keep away from (the injured list) because we’re hopeful to get him back before that time would be up.”

Riley was not available to pinch-hit in the loss to the Padres, Snitker said after the game.

Zack Short filled in at third base for Riley again. The Braves have been playing a man short (no pun intended). They’ve seemingly felt good about Riley’s chances of staying off the injured list.

Teams can only backdate an injured list placement a maximum of three days. So if the Braves were to place Riley on the injured list on Friday, retroactive to May 14, he wouldn’t be available until May 24.

“(Short has) done a great job. I think, in this situation, regardless of that, we’re gonna be careful (with Riley),” Snitker said. “Because if you’re not, and (his oblique) goes, then it’s two months. And in talking to Austin, he says, ‘I’ve played through this before.’ But I’m glad he fessed up and said there was something going on. I mean, that’s smart.”

Kranitz steps away for two days

Bullpen coach Erick Abreu handled the mound visits on Friday.

Pitching coach Rick Kranitz is away for a family event. He’ll return Sunday.

Ronald Acuña Jr. back in the lineup

After two off-days – Wednesday’s game and then Thursday’s team off-day – Ronald Acuña Jr. was back in the lineup, batting leadoff and playing right field.

“He hasn’t been a zero,” Snitker said. “He’s one of the league leaders in runs, he’s hitting .250. It’s not Ronald Acuña-ish, I guess. I just them wheels were spinning a little bit. Just wanted to give him just some downtime mentally, more than anything, and (let him) sit and watch a game. Guys, if they get going mentally, just sitting and watching is not a bad thing, every now and then.”

Acuña went 1-for-3 with a run scored Friday.

Braves’ coming stretch might be a positive

With off days and rainouts, the Braves have had a somewhat restful beginning to this season. They entered Friday playing the fewest games of any team in the majors.

Friday began a stretch of 17 games in 17 days.

And that might not be a bad thing.

“It might be good for us to get roughed up like that and go through a spell, hopefully,” Snitker said.

This run begins with the four-game series against the Padres and ends with the finale against the Athletics on June 2 at Truist Park.

A positive: Because of playing fewer games than every other club, as well as the starters pitching so well, the Braves’ bullpen has thrown only 133 innings to this point – the smallest workload of any team in the majors. Of course, that’s influenced by playing fewer games than everyone else, but this will help Snitker navigate this stretch of 17 games in 17 days.

“You’re one bad start from that being blown up, too,” Snitker said. “I just look at today and we’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. That’s all good. It’s great.”