Braves option Bryce Elder, clearing way for Reynaldo Lopez to be fifth starter

Atlanta Braves pitcher Reynaldo Lopez (40) warms up during spring training workouts at CoolToday Park, Saturday, February, 17, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /



Atlanta Braves pitcher Reynaldo Lopez (40) warms up during spring training workouts at CoolToday Park, Saturday, February, 17, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /

NORTH PORT, Fla. – When the Braves landed Chris Sale in a surprising trade this winter, many people assumed Reynaldo Lopez was ticketed for the bullpen. The Braves had four starters, which would allow them to use Lopez, a hard-throwing righty, in the late innings.

Well, it is March 18, and the Braves announced Lopez as their fifth starter. He won the job after the team stuck to its plan of giving him an opportunity to start because they believed he might be the best choice.

The Braves on Monday optioned Bryce Elder and Huascar Ynoa. Elder was Lopez’s main competition this spring, especially after the Braves optioned AJ Smith-Shawver.

“We gotta start somewhere and we gotta be really aware of our starter depth, too,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said on Monday morning. “We talked a long time last night going over this. It’s about the self-preservation of the season and all, and not have to worry about putting one guy in the ‘pen and, at some point, need them to start, and then worrying about stretching them back out. That’s exactly what it’s all about.”

Lopez, a full-time starter earlier in his career, has successfully made the transition back to starting this spring. The Braves are cognizant of their depth, and starting Lopez is one way to preserve it – especially because his performance gave the front office and coaching staff no serious concerns about his ability to start.

And because the Braves stretched out Lopez this spring, it’s easier to put him in the rotation now than it would be to stretch him out during the regular season. They can always move him into the bullpen if they choose.

The news had to be disappointing for Elder, who was an All-Star last season. He struggled down the stretch, but that could’ve been due to 2023 being his first full season in the majors.

Here’s something to remember: The Braves, Snitker said, expect to use around 11 different starting pitchers during a season. So if Elder stays healthy, we’ll likely see him in Atlanta this year.

“I told Bryce, too: A year ago today we did this same thing and then you got called back up within the first week and made the All-Star team,” Snitker said. “I don’t know that that won’t happen again, quite honestly.”

The Braves also must be aware of their depth because of their rotation situation. Chris Sale, who turns 35 later this month, hasn’t pitched over the last few years because of injuries. Since the end of 2019, Lopez hasn’t thrown more than 66 innings in a season. And the Braves will be careful with 40-year-old Charlie Morton, just as they’ve been in past seasons.

Lopez logged 188 2/3 innings in 2018 and 184 in 2019, which is a testament to his durability as a full-time starter. But the Braves, at this point, haven’t charted out his workload for this season.

“Nah, we’ll just go,” Snitker said. “He’s a big, strong kid. That’s one of those things that we’ll use common sense as we navigate the next seven months with him.”

Lopez’s body seems to be adjusting well. Two outings ago, his legs felt heavy. On Sunday, after he threw five innings, he told Snitker he felt great.

“Our focus with Reynaldo is just figuring out his mix and figuring out what he likes from us, and whether that’s different out of the bullpen or as a starter,” catcher Sean Murphy said. “We still have some communicating to do and things to iron out, but Reynaldo seems to game for anything. In any spot they put him, I think he’ll compete and thrive.”

Entering spring training, it seemed Lopez might’ve been the better fit as a fifth starter – at least to start the season. Had he opened in the bullpen, along with the other projected members of the unit, the Braves would’ve had only one optionable reliever: Dylan Lee. And they wouldn’t have room for a long man.

This way, Lopez begins in the rotation and the Braves have more flexibility with their depth. And Lopez never gave the Braves a reason to do anything different.

Across five spring outings, he has a 2.16 ERA over 16 2/3 innings. Elder, on the other hand, has allowed 11 earned runs over 12 innings in spring games.

Ynoa, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2022, threw a scoreless inning on Saturday in his return to the mound. But he experienced shoulder soreness earlier in camp and never had enough time to ramp up and truly compete for the fifth rotation spot. Elder and Smith-Shawver battled Lopez.

The Braves optioned Smith-Shawver on March 11.

One week later, they sent down Bryce Elder.

Your fifth starter for the Atlanta Braves: Reynaldo Lopez.