Reliever Dylan Lee returns after Braves get creative with roster

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Dylan Lee (52) delivers to a Pittsburgh Pirates batter during the eighth inning at Truist Park, Friday, June 28, 2024, in Atlanta. The Braves won 6-1. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Dylan Lee (52) delivers to a Pittsburgh Pirates batter during the eighth inning at Truist Park, Friday, June 28, 2024, in Atlanta. The Braves won 6-1. (Jason Getz / AJC)

PHOENIX – Dylan Lee is back with the Braves – though he never really left.

After Sunday’s game in Atlanta, Lee flew with the team to Phoenix for a four-game series against the Diamondbacks. On Monday, Atlanta optioned Lee – their only optionable reliever – because they needed to get Bryce Elder onto the roster to start Monday’s game and give the other starting pitchers an extra day of rest.

On Wednesday, the Braves recalled Lee amid a flurry of moves. They placed outfielder Ramón Laureano on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to July 9, with a left oblique muscle strain. They optioned right-hander AJ Smith-Shawver, who went unused out of the bullpen in his one day with the team. They also reinstated infielder/outfielder Brian Anderson, who is back after dealing with a lower body bacterial infection. They also outrighted outfielder J.P. Martinez to Triple-A Gwinnett.

When a player is optioned, he officially becomes a minor leaguer – if only in title. But Lee did not report to Triple-A Gwinnett when the Braves made the move on Monday.

He was in Phoenix.

“I stayed because I had three days to figure out what was happening,” Lee said.

What did he do on Monday and Tuesday, when he wasn’t on the Braves’ 26-man roster?

“Just spent some time with family and just figured out what was going on, since it’s a crazy move,” Lee said.

Lee’s wife flew to Phoenix. They were together here. He threw and kept his arm going.

Lee said Braves president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos was the one who informed him the Braves were optioning him. His thought in the moment: “All right, I knew you guys needed a starter, so whatever happens.” But Lee said Anthopoulos explained that the decision wasn’t based on performance.

This was true.

Lee has a 2.00 ERA over 36 innings for Atlanta this season. When healthy, the lefty has been valuable out of the bullpen over the last couple seasons.

“I had to call my agent and figure things out because I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on,’” Lee said.

Roster rules can be confusing.

The Braves didn’t option Lee because he wasn’t performing – they did it to get Elder up to the big-league roster. They optioned Elder on Tuesday and reinstated Smith-Shawver from the injured list to give them a fresh arm if they needed it. They did not, and they sent down Smith-Shawver.

A team can recall any player – a pitcher or a position player – when it places a player on the injured list. Thus, the Laureano move was a valuable bullet for Anthopoulos. By not putting Laureano on the injured list before Wednesday, Anthopoulos was able to use this move in the most beneficial way.

Here’s why Anthopoulos’ smart thinking helped Atlanta: When a pitcher is optioned, he must spend at least 15 days in the minors before being called back up – unless he is recalled for an injured player.

Anthopoulos is always creative, down to the smallest moves – like how he brought Lee back onto the roster after two days.

“He’s always looking at how we can maneuver the roster,” Snitker said. “It’s big – kind of using what’s available to you and have some foresight to see that. He’s always working it, I know that. He has a lot of great ideas.”

Lee seemed fine with the move, even if it might’ve confused him at first.

“I think they know that I’m like that, and that’s one of the reasons that they like me,” Lee said.

In reality, it all amounted to this: Lee, who pitched a scoreless inning in Sunday’s win over the Phillies, had two days of rest.

Now, he’s available again.

This is because the Braves decided to wait for the correct time to place Laureano on the injured list. Laureano, who hasn’t played since June 26, isn’t eligible to return until after the All-Star break.

Oblique strains are no joke. Catcher Sean Murphy missed two months with one earlier this season.

Other than a few dry swings, Laureano wasn’t swinging a bat. He was only tracking pitches in the bullpen when pitchers were throwing their bullpen sessions.

For over a week, Laureano has seemed like a likely candidate for the injured list. The Braves just waited to do it until it benefited them most.