Braves reliever A.J. Minter finally trusts his stuff

Braves reliever A.J. Minter watches a game against the Reds on April 9 in Atlanta. Minter has surrendered only one run and one hit over 4 ⅔ innings this season. (Branden Camp/for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Combined ShapeCaption
Braves reliever A.J. Minter watches a game against the Reds on April 9 in Atlanta. Minter has surrendered only one run and one hit over 4 ⅔ innings this season. (Branden Camp/for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

LOS ANGELES — Last season, as reliever A.J. Minter struggled, the Braves sent him down to Triple-A. Demotions are never easy, but Minter turned this one into a positive.

“It was a time for me to work on my craft,” Minter said, “and not worry so much about the outcome.”

He was with Gwinnett for seven outings. He didn’t allow a hit over 7 ⅓ innings.

The left-hander has been terrific since. This season, Minter has surrendered only one run and one hit over 4 ⅔ innings.

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“First off, mentally, it was just trusting my stuff,” Minter said recently of what changed with him. “Pitchers, you get in streaks, just like hitters. When your stuff isn’t playing good, you start to kind of get timid and not trust your stuff as much.

“I just kind of learned that, hey, I have a good fastball and I have a good cutter-slider, and I need to trust that. And even with my change-up, too. I think there was times where I’d kind of get cutter happy and rely on my cutter too much, and not trust my fastball. I learned that me establishing my fastball kind of sets up my cutter and change-up.”

There is a noticeable change in Minter, who had a 4.86 ERA in 42 games before the Braves sent him down last season. When he returned, he pitched to a 1.89 ERA over 19 innings to close the regular season, then allowed only four earned runs over 12 frames in the team’s postseason run.

He’s continued attacking hitters and trusting his stuff. According to Baseball Savant, the average exit velocity for balls put in play versus Minter this season is 82 mph, which puts the left-hander in the top 10% in MLB.

“Guys get confidence and trust their stuff and feel like, ‘You know what, I belong here,’ and I think that goes a long way into performance,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s just been more consistent.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Braves reliever A.J. Minter delivers. The average exit velocity for balls put in play versus Minter this season is 82 mph, which puts the left-hander in the top 10% in MLB. (Branden Camp/for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Branden Camp

Braves reliever A.J. Minter delivers. The average exit velocity for balls put in play versus Minter this season is 82 mph, which puts the left-hander in the top 10% in MLB. (Branden Camp/for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Branden Camp

Combined ShapeCaption
Braves reliever A.J. Minter delivers. The average exit velocity for balls put in play versus Minter this season is 82 mph, which puts the left-hander in the top 10% in MLB. (Branden Camp/for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

His conviction when throwing his pitches, he said, is now “totally different.” This newfound confidence has allowed him to become an integral part of Braves relievers who call themselves “The Night Shift.” The Braves’ bullpen is one of the club’s strengths, and its depth has allowed everyone to settle in after a short spring.

“It just kind of takes a toll off of you, where there’s days where you don’t have to go out there and push through or throw three out of four or two out of three when you can kind of pass the ball off to the guy behind you,” Minter said. “We have so much depth in the bullpen. Each guy can throw the seventh, eighth and ninth. Especially at the beginning when we’re still getting our feet wet, we don’t have to go out there and push ourselves and try to put the team on our back.”

“But when you go out there and you just trust your stuff and throw with conviction, it's weird. Nine times out of 10, if you trust your stuff you're going to have a better outcome."

- Braves reliever A.J. Minter

The relievers all have their own backstories. Three years ago, Minter got into a minor car accident that threw off his start to the 2019 season. Last season, he spent time in the minors. Now he’s become a crucial part of the defending champions, and it’s because he’s finally trusting his pitches.

Telling someone to trust their stuff is one thing.

That person actually doing it is another.

“The biggest thing is just mentally,” Minter said. “It’s crazy. When you don’t believe in your stuff and you go out there, you can give up two, three hits and give up a run. But when you go out there and you just trust your stuff and throw with conviction, it’s weird. Nine times out of 10, if you trust your stuff you’re going to have a better outcome.”