Braves reliever Pierce Johnson ‘felt really good’ facing hitters Wednesday

Atlanta Braves pitcher Pierce Johnson (38) throws a pitch during the ninth inning of home opener baseball game at Truist Park, Friday, April 5, 2024, in Atlanta. Atlanta Braves won 5-4 in the tenth inning. (Hyosub Shin /



Atlanta Braves pitcher Pierce Johnson (38) throws a pitch during the ninth inning of home opener baseball game at Truist Park, Friday, April 5, 2024, in Atlanta. Atlanta Braves won 5-4 in the tenth inning. (Hyosub Shin /

In front of Braves manager Brian Snitker and some of his coaches, Pierce Johnson faced a couple of his teammates on the field at Truist Park. A couple hours before the series finale against the Cubs, the Braves gained one more positive to their hot start: Johnson, a huge part of their bullpen, looked great on the mound.

Johnson, on the 15-day injured list because of inflammation in his right elbow, appears on track to return Friday.

“Felt really good,” Johnson said after throwing live batting practice. “It was just more of a precautionary matter, right? So, just wanted to get back on the mound and feel everything, face some batters, get that adrenaline pumping again. You can’t quite simulate that in the bullpen, so I wanted to face some batters before I got activated. It’s their choice now. Whether they wait a day or two (to activate me), I don’t know. Feel great, excited to join the guys again and go out to battle.”

If the Braves were to ask Johnson, would he feel healthy enough to be activated Friday?

“One-thousand percent,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”

Johnson will be a massive addition for the bullpen. Before hitting the injured list, he had allowed four earned runs over 12 innings, with 16 strikeouts and five walks. His last appearance came April 29 in Seattle, where he struck out the side in a scoreless inning to continue a no-hit bid at the time. Johnson then missed the next three games before the Braves placed him on the injured list.

“I was choking the ball a lot because the ball was kind of slick in Seattle, and I just felt like I didn’t recover as fast,” Johnson said. “I got hot the next day, and it just didn’t feel good, and so I brought it up to the trainers, and they were like, ‘All right, let’s just take a couple days.’ It was just one of those things that you’re very cautious about because it’s a long year. It was the end of April, early May. Let’s knock it out now, hopefully it’s smooth sailing (from here).”

At this moment, it would seem either Jackson Stephens or Ray Kerr would be the odd man out once Johnson returns. Kerr has provided the Braves with a nice stint up here in place of Tyler Matzek, who’s on the 15-day injured list with left elbow inflammation. Kerr has thrown three scoreless innings, with four strikeouts, but he has minor-league options. Stephens, on the other hand, is out of options and would need to be removed from the roster if the Braves decide not to carry him.

Both Kerr and Stephens pitched in Wednesday’s loss to the Cubs. Kerr threw three innings of one-run baseball. Stephens tossed a scoreless inning.

Whatever the decision, the Braves are expected to receive a boost in a couple of days after Johnson got through his live batting practice healthy.

“Thought he looked really good,” said Snitker, who sat in the dugout for it.

Sean Murphy could begin a rehab assignment next week

Sean Murphy (oblique strain) could begin a rehab assignment next week, Snitker confirmed.

On Wednesday, Braves president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos told Nick Cellini and Chris Dimino on 680 The Fan that the goal would be for Murphy to begin a rehab assignment sometime next week. Anthopoulos also said not to hold him to that, just because Murphy might need an extra day or something.

Murphy’s first time facing pitchers will probably be in a rehab game, Snitker said. He wasn’t yet ready to do that when Johnson threw Wednesday, and at this time of the year, because everyone is in season, it’s difficult to have a pitcher on hand to throw to a rehabbing hitter.

Braves starters for San Diego series

The Padres come to town for four games, beginning Friday. The Braves on Wednesday announced the projected pitching matchups.

Friday: Max Fried will face righty Matt Waldron, who throws a knuckleball.

Saturday: Bryce Elder will pitch against right-hander Yu Darvish.

Sunday: Reynaldo López gets the start, but San Diego hasn’t announced a starting pitcher.

Monday: Chris Sale will start the finale, but the Padres haven’t yet decided on their pitcher.