How Max Fried unintentionally helped A.J. Minter locate his fastball better

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter during a game against Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Atlanta.  Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Atlanta Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter during a game against Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

MIAMI – Max Fried might have unintentionally helped A.J. Minter stumble on to something that has led to the left-handed reliever locating his fastball much better.

This story goes back to April 13 versus Washington. With Fried, the Braves’ No. 1 pitcher, set to take the mound at Truist Park that night, the relievers were all prepared for something.

“Max is throwing today,” Minter said. “You’re ready for a big hole.”

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Fried, Minter said, is known for digging a bad hole in the landing spot on the mound. So Minter decided to adjust to it that night.

When he entered the game to pitch the seventh inning, Minter scooted to the far left side of the rubber to avoid the hole in the mound.

He struck out the side. He’s been pitching from the left side of the rubber ever since.

“I don’t know if that has something to do with it, but I feel comfortable on the left side right now,” Minter said. “Especially on that fastball arm-side, I’m able to hit that spot a lot better.”

Of what this adjustment has done for him, Minter added: “I’m able to pitch to both sides of the plate better. My strength has always been glove-side, but now it opens up that left side of the plate a little bit better, so I’m able to throw those.”

Right after striking out the side that night, Minter told Fried about the adjustment.

“Happy for him that he was able to find a happy accident and still found something that worked for him, and that he’s able to utilize it,” Fried said Saturday. “Obviously, you see him really taking off.”

After tossing a scoreless inning in Friday’s win over the Marlins, Minter holds a 1.53 ERA over 17-2/3 innings this season. He has struck out 27 batters and has walked only four.

The lefty hasn’t allowed a run since April 24. Since then, he has hurled 11 scoreless frames while allowing only four hits. And in that span, he has struck out 15 batters and walked three.

Opponents are batting .148 with a .442 OPS against Minter this season, and he hasn’t allowed a home run.

“It’s invaluable,” Fried said of Minter’s presence in the bullpen. “Obviously being able to have guys that you know what you’re going to get from them every single time that they go out is huge. But we have a lot of guys like that in the bullpen. A.J.’s done an unbelievable job of working his way – obviously having the rough go last year to hunkering down and becoming one of the better relievers in baseball. It’s really just a testament to his hard work and his belief in himself.”

Minter said his fastball command has been his biggest benefactor. His fastball averages 97 mph and, versus 134 of them this season, opposing hitters are batting .094 with 16 strikeouts.

“I feel like this is the best I’ve located my fastball, I feel like, in my whole entire career,” Minter said. “When I can establish my fastball, that just sets up everything else. I feel like that’s what’s been working for me.”

After spending time at Triple-A Gwinnett last season, Minter has been terrific. He helped the Braves in the postseason and is a key part of their current bullpen, which lacks Tyler Matzek (left shoulder inflammation) and Luke Jackson (Tommy John surgery). The Braves have needed others to step up, and Minter has been perhaps their most reliable reliever, becoming a dangerous weapon.

“A.J., he’s another guy that’s learning about himself, this job, his routine, the whole thing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Friday night. “He’s always had a good arm. Last year kind of went sideways a little bit, but he regrouped. He went back and regrouped.”

Morton has settled in

Through five starts, Charlie Morton had a 6.85 ERA. He struggled getting hitters to chase. He wondered if his stuff was playing as it once did.

He stayed the course, confident he would be fine.

In three starts since then, Morton has allowed four earned runs over 16-1/3 innings.

“I think I’m getting to a spot where I’m feeling a little bit better physically,” Morton said Friday night. “In my delivery. Endurance-wise, I feel better. I feel a little bit stronger, like my legs are getting under me a little bit better. My arm’s catching up.

“I haven’t really changed a whole lot. I think more of I feel my delivery is just coming along.”

Braves being careful with Strider

With Matzek on the injured list, the Braves have increased Spencer Strider’s role to include higher-leverage situations than he had pitched in previously.

They remain cautious with him, though. This seems like a balance. The Braves are giving Strider more responsibility, but are trying to allow him to settle into being a big leaguer because he has had only one full season of pro ball.

Strider pitched two innings Monday, one Wednesday and one Friday. This is the most frequently he’s pitched all season.

“At some point, he may grow into (pitching back-to-back days),” Snitker said. “But right now we’ve got to realize we’ve got five more months, and he’s going to go through things that he’s never experienced before, which he already has. So we’ll be careful with him. It’s his first full year being a reliever, and we may end up starting some. I don’t know.”

Davidson to make next start

Tucker Davidson will make his next start, which will come Monday versus the Phillies at Truist Park.

In his only other start of the season, Davidson tossed five scoreless innings against the Brewers on Tuesday.