Braves option Ray Kerr as they look to navigate long stretch without off day

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)

CHICAGO – After the second game of Monday’s doubleheader against San Diego, the Braves optioned left-hander Ray Kerr to Triple-A Gwinnett.

On its face, the move is surprising. Kerr, after all, has pitched well since the club brought him up to Atlanta. Not only has his stuff been impressive, but he’s capably thrown multiple innings out of the bullpen.

But the Braves are scheduled to play three games in Chicago to continue what began as a stretch of 17 games in 17 days – before their Saturday postponement. Their next off day isn’t until June 3. And after Tuesday’s game, they’ll have played three contests in two games. They need to cover themselves in terms of their pitching situation.

Optioning Kerr gives the Braves an opportunity to add a fresh arm ahead of Tuesday’s series opener versus the Cubs. And Kerr’s last appearance – 3 1/3 innings and 64 pitches on Sunday – made him unavailable for the next few days.

Kerr made a strong impression, though. Since joining the big club on May 8, he allowed three runs over 9 1/3 frames, with 10 strikeouts and no walks. He pitched multiple innings in three of his four outings. Twice, he tossed at least three innings.

But he wouldn’t have been able to pitch for at least the next couple of days.

In addition to keeping their bullpen fresh, the Braves need starting pitchers for Thursday and Friday – Thursday because of Saturday’s postponement, and Friday because they optioned Elder, who started on Sunday and would’ve been lined up for Friday. When Atlanta optioned Elder, it recalled Darius Vines, who could serve as length out of the bullpen before starting on Thursday or Friday if necessary.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Braves stretch out Kerr – an idea manager Brian Snitker didn’t dismiss after Sunday’s game. He’s never started a game in the big leagues, and he hasn’t been a starting pitcher since 2018 and part of 2019, but the Braves might have an opportunity in their rotation.

Spencer Strider’s season-ending elbow surgery left Atlanta with a rotation vacancy. The Braves first brought up Allan Winans, who didn’t stick. Then they tried Darius Vines, but they soon optioned him. Bryce Elder has received the most time in the role, but he has a 6.46 ERA over five starts.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see Braves president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos pursue starting pitching at the trade deadline, but it isn’t even June yet. The market likely hasn’t materialized because it’s too early for certain teams that would be theoretical sellers to punt on this season. Therefore, the Braves probably need to fill from within for now.

This is a much different case, but the Braves have successfully converted Reynaldo López back into a starting pitcher. He hit the market as a tremendous late-inning reliever, but they decided he could provide more value to their rotation – and that was before he posted a 1.54 ERA over his first eight starts.

In fewer than two weeks in the majors, Kerr displayed the qualities that attracted Atlanta to him during the offseason. If he continues throwing the way he did, he’ll likely contribute in the majors again this season.

But for now, the Braves had to focus on putting themselves in the best position as they head into a series with the Cubs.