CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Braves’ fifth-starter competition underwent a significant development Tuesday. It’s down to two surprise candidates.
The team optioned right-handers Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder to Triple-A Gwinnett. In a surprise, the fifth-starter competition is down to Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd, two players who haven’t made their MLB debuts.
This was less about Anderson and Elder, both of whom have had unspectacular springs, and more about Shuster’s and Dodd’s brilliance. Both have far surpassed the team’s expectations and now are rewarded with the chance to make the initial roster.
Shuster, the team’s 2020 first-round pick, has a 1.04 ERA with nine strikeouts against one walk in 8-2/3 innings. Dodd, a third-round pick in 2021, has struck out 11 without issuing a walk in 8-1/3 scoreless innings (Dodd allowed five runs in the third inning of a loss to the WBC’s Dominican Republic team last week, but that exhibition wasn’t counted toward Grapefruit League play. He did impress in the first two innings of that outing, too). Dodd has been the most pleasant surprise in camp.
Meanwhile, Anderson and Elder exhibited command issues. Anderson disappointed last season with a 5.00 ERA in 22 starts, which prompted a demotion to Gwinnett for the player who only two seasons ago pitched five scoreless innings in the World Series. His control problems have remained this spring, most recently shown last week when he walked three and hit a batter against Tampa Bay.
Elder, who made 10 appearances last season, has a 6.17 ERA this spring in 11-2/3 innings. He has struck out nine and walked five, including three in his start Tuesday against the Phillies. He also has allowed three homers.
Anderson and Elder can be recalled before opening day, but that would probably happen only if circumstances dictate it (injuries, for instance). The Braves also optioned both players knowing the team would need innings for Wright and potentially Michael Soroka (hamstring) during spring training’s final weeks. Anderson, Elder and Soroka (if healthy) eventually will get major-league opportunities, given the realities of a 162-game season.
Shuster and Dodd likely will make two more appearances before the team sets its opening-day roster, and those outings will determine who begins the season in a major-league rotation. The other four spots in the Braves’ rotation are set with Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton and Kyle Wright. While Wright hasn’t pitched in an exhibition game yet after getting a cortisone injection in his right shoulder two months ago, the team has been encouraged and expects him to be ready for the season.
Additionally, the Braves sent the following players to minor-league camp Tuesday: left-hander Brian Moran, catcher Drake Baldwin, infielders Joe Dunand and Adeiny Hechavarria, and outfielders Justin Dean, Cody Milligan, Magneuris Sierra and Forrest Wall. The team’s roster now includes 42 players.
The Braves open the regular season March 30 at the Nationals.
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