For Braves reliever Raisel Iglesias, pitching for contender has made difference

Braves reliever Raisel Iglesias throws to a Mariners batter during the eighth inning Friday in Seattle. A trade that occurred minutes before the deadline changed Iglesias’ trajectory this season. (AP Photo/Caean Couto)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Braves reliever Raisel Iglesias throws to a Mariners batter during the eighth inning Friday in Seattle. A trade that occurred minutes before the deadline changed Iglesias’ trajectory this season. (AP Photo/Caean Couto)

SAN FRANCISCO — A trade that occurred minutes before the deadline changed Raisel Iglesias’ trajectory this season.

In a way, it gave him a boost. The Angels were going nowhere, so they traded him to the Braves, a club trying to repeat as World Series champions.

“There’s a big difference, honestly,” Iglesias said Wednesday through interpreter Franco García. “Just coming over to here, competitive team, a winning team, the adrenaline that goes into every night, the harmony in the clubhouse. There’s just a lot of factors that go into the vibe and the chemistry, the dynamic that we have on this team.”

The environment changed, and so did Iglesias’ numbers.

He had a 4.04 ERA through 35 ⅔ innings with the Angels before the trade. He had converted 16 of 19 save opportunities as the closer.

With the Braves, Iglesias entered Wednesday having allowed one run in 16 ⅔ innings. Since giving up that run, Iglesias has tossed 13 ⅔ scoreless frames. He has 14 strikeouts in that span, and opponents have collected only five hits off him.

In an interview, Iglesias made it seem like it is no coincidence that he is pitching better on a contending team.

“Whenever you’re on a team that’s not competing, I think that makes it challenging,” Iglesias said. “For me in particular being in the closer role, when the team’s not necessarily having success, it makes it challenging to pitch as often as you’d like because it can be three or four days before you get an outing. It’s hard to kind of maintain the rhythm of the game and sort of just get that feel for the game when you’re not pitching as often as you’d like to be.”

Iglesias has been a reliable late-inning option for the Braves, who have used him in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Kenley Jansen is the closer, but a bullpen can never have too many weapons.

Especially when one of those bullets in manager Brian Snitker’s pocket has been one of baseball’s best closers during his career. Iglesias has 157 saves over his career and has converted 86.3% of his chances since his debut in 2015.

“He’s pretty unbelievable,” Dansby Swanson said Tuesday. “Got a lot of confidence, got a lot of conviction in himself and the pitches he throws. He’s fun. He pitches with good rhythm, good pace. He’s fun to have around. He’s always smiling. ... He’s a joy to have here. We’re definitely thankful that he’s here.”

Iglesias has had a great career to this point but has pitched in only two postseason games – both in 2020 against the Braves (ironically). If he stays healthy, he should add to that total this year.

When Swanson sees Iglesias before games, he always tells him something.

“I’ll see you later tonight,” Swanson says, in reference to Iglesias pitching late in the game for the Braves.

This year, Iglesias might hear that line from Swanson in October. The right-hander is excited to be on a contender.

“Right now, honestly, I’m just focused on supporting the team in any role that I can,” Iglesias said. “Obviously, the objective is to win the division. Honestly for me, (I want to) keep supporting the team in any facet that I can. But thinking about the postseason, obviously I’m looking forward to it with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement. The objective is to win the World Series, so hopefully I’ll be able to contribute any way I can to just be able to run it back with this team.”

Dansby Swanson excels with two strikes

After Tuesday’s game, Snitker had high praise for Swanson’s performance in the largest moments of the game.

“Ever since he’s been here, in big spots like that, in those situations, I wouldn’t want anybody else up there,” Snitker said. “He has a real penchant for coming through in those situations.”

Swanson’s numbers this season are best with two outs. Entering Wednesday, he had hit .310 with a .901 OPS in those situations. Nine of his 20 home runs and 41 of his 87 RBIs had come with two outs.

“I’m still trying to figure out why I can’t do that when it’s not two outs,” Swanson said with a smile. “I don’t know. God gave me that focus ability – I don’t know how to explain it. I just feel like things get a lot slower, and I just breathe a little bit better and see things a little bit clearer. It keeps everything external for me. The focus is on competing and about the end result. It’s not on anything else.”

Ronald Acuña in right field

Recently, the Braves have used Ronald Acuña in the designated hitter spot. That has been a way for them to manage his ongoing right-knee soreness.

On Wednesday, Acuña started in right field for the first time since Aug. 26 in St. Louis. He had been the Braves’ DH for 12 consecutive games.

Braves rotation versus Phillies

The Braves are off Thursday. On Friday, they begin a three-game series versus the Phillies at Truist Park.

Max Fried will start the series opener. Jake Odorizzi will pitch the second game. Spencer Strider will start the finale.