It gives them wings: How Red Bull fuels Braves relievers

Before they pitch, most of the Braves' relievers love drinking a Red Bull.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Before they pitch, most of the Braves' relievers love drinking a Red Bull.

Each night in the bullpen, the Braves relievers who are available that night will stay physically and mentally ready for anything. As the game progresses, they go through their routines to stay ready for any situation.

There is one important part of this process that most of them cannot go without. You likely do not see it with your own eyes, but it is fuel for the moment.

Here’s a hint: It gives them wings.

“You can’t have greenies anymore like they could back in the day,” Tyler Matzek said. “So we’re stuck with caffeine, and Red Bull is a good way to get it, so we just drink some Red Bulls.”

Red Bull, an energy drink, is, well, not the healthiest option. It is loaded with caffeine and sugar. On its website, though, Red Bull claims one can of its drink has as much caffeine as one cup of coffee.

The relievers want extra juice and energy in an efficient way. So on nights they pitch, most of the Braves’ relievers will snag a Red Bull from a fridge, whether it be in the clubhouse or out in the bullpen.

“You can only drink so much coffee without feeling full or stuff like that,” Jesse Chavez said. “But it depends. If we’re up, we have a Red Bull. If we’re down, we don’t have anything. You know what I mean? So we just try to pick and choose because you can only have so many Red Bulls before you get an ulcer.”

“It’s just almost like a psychological thing. It’s almost like, when you get down there, it’s just part of the routine, right?” Pierce Johnson said. “You just grab a Red Bull and go from there. I love the taste of Red Bull, I’ve always liked it. But yeah, it’s just a little bit of extra zip you can get, get the heart moving a little bit.”

“Well, what it was, was, we play so late, and as a reliever you’re sitting there watching a game, kind of being lulled to sleep, just sitting there, waiting – you can’t be running around or doing anything for five or six innings,” Matzek said. “So it was a way to stay stimulated, stay awake, stay ready to go. … On the short list of things we’re allowed to have is caffeine, so we crush caffeine.”

Asked when he first began gulping energy drinks before appearances, Chavez recalls his days in Double-A Frisco in the Rangers organization – before he even debuted. Monster – another energy drink brand – sponsored the team. The Frisco minor leaguers had three different flavors of Monster in the clubhouse.

“Guys have been doing it for years,” Chavez said.

“I think it’s definitely a reliever thing,” A.J. Minter said.

Remember Will Smith? In 2018, Smith and Johnson played for the Giants. Smith went on to close games for the Braves, including recording the final outs of the 2021 World Series. And a year after the Braves traded Smith to the Astros, the Braves acquired Johnson from the Rockies.

But in 2018, Johnson was a rookie still. He looked up to Smith, a veteran lefty.

Smith taught Johnson a lot, including how to get more amped up before an outing.

“I watched Will Smith drink a Red Bull almost every day,” Johnson recalled. “He put it on ice in a cup when I was in San Francisco. Smitty’s the man, I love that guy. He was the best. When I was a rookie, he was a great guy to have around and kind of help chaperone me into becoming a big leaguer and stuff like that. I don’t know – I saw him doing it, I was like, ‘Hey, he’s doing it right, might as well start doing stuff he’s doing.’”

And nowadays, Johnson brings a hydration drink to the bullpen. He’ll drink that, then grab a Red Bull. He doesn’t always finish his Red Bull, but for games after travel days or day games, he sometimes needs the extra zip.

Minter estimates he’s been drinking Red Bull before pitching since 2018 or 2019. Minter remembers Jason Motte, a reliever who pitched for the Braves in 2017, drinking them. “He was a big Red Bull guy,” Minter said. So much so that Motte would smash the can on his head after he finished it.

And now, Minter and Chavez have their own nightly competition. After they finish drinking a Red Bull, they see who can stomp his can into a perfect circle.

Of course, they have conflicting opinions on who is better at this.

On the day Minter talks about their battles, he picks up Chavez’s cleat. Whereas Minter’s shoe has a groove in the middle, Chavez’s cleat is flatter.

“Chavy is cheating because he has these big, flat shoes, so he gets a lot more square feet,” Minter said. “Mine’s a little bit harder to smash.”

Told about this another day, Chavez says: “No. No, no. Nope. I figured he’d say that. No, no, there’s no chance. He’s bad. He’s bad at it. There’s no way around it.”

Chavez contends that his stomping attempt actually is more difficult because he does it sitting down. Minter stands up. “He didn’t tell you that, though, did he?” Chavez adds. (No, Minter didn’t mention that part.)

So what’s the strategy for achieving a perfect circle?

“It’s just the angle,” Chavez said. “You just gotta go straight down.”

They compete. Neither wants to lose.

“Ours is intense,” Chavez said of their game. “We make sure everybody knows, too. You get it wrong, you are getting blown up, for sure.”

But let’s ask a couple of others: Who is better at smashing his can into a perfect circle?

“I’m gonna have to go with Chavy,” Matzek said. “I think he’s got a little more time under his belt crushing them. Mint has been known to put up a very good stomp, but I think Chavy is the more consistent stomper.”

“Oh yeah. Mint’s terrible at it,” Johnson said.

(Sorry, A.J.)

And the shenanigans don’t end there: Years ago, Chavez played in the Rangers system with a reliever named Danny Herrera, who eventually pitched for the Reds. When Chavez was with Pittsburgh and Herrera was with Cincinnati, Chavez and others would take the tab off the Red Bull can and cut it in half for the 5-foot-6 Herrera – a small can for a short guy.

While Red Bull is a staple for the Braves’ relievers, not everyone chooses it, for one reason or another. But all the guys have their preferred drinks.

“I just started getting too amped up, too jittery (with Red Bull),” Matzek said. “I was already getting plenty stimulated when I was out on the mound. I didn’t even need to get even more amped up and over-anxious, I guess.”

So about three years ago, Matzek switched to Coca-Cola. If it’s a day game, he’ll have a coffee.

In years past, Dylan Lee would drink Red Bull before his appearances. “Grab one, sip one, finish it,” he said. But this season, he stopped.

He felt pretty amped already. He didn’t need caffeine.

“I actually think that it does the opposite to me, and that’s why I stopped drinking it,” Lee said. “Because when I drink Red Bull, it calms me down, and I don’t think that’s good, especially in the bullpen. So I stopped drinking it, and now I feel a little bit more alert. I started getting tired.”

Joe Jiménez opts for coffee and lots of water.

“At the start of my career, I started doing pre-workout before I pitched,” Jiménez said. “But I felt it was more that it’s like, ‘OK, I need to do it. If I don’t do it, I’m not gonna feel good.’ I don’t want to feel that again. I think guys do it because of that more than anything else – I don’t know. Maybe.”

And because he felt like he was drinking something only to drink something, he stopped. Now, it’s coffee and water only.

And we should give Johnson some props: It seems most guys, like Minter and Lee, would drink sugar-free Red Bull.

“No, I can’t be having that,” Johnson said. “Nah. Give me the real stuff.”

Johnson drinks the regular one.

Lee can’t match it?

“I can match it, it’s just not good for me,” Lee said.

On nights they’re available to pitch, Red Bull is a familiar taste of most of Braves relievers. But everyone drinks something – even if it’s not Red Bull.

“It’s more of, like, out of tradition, I guess, than anything,” Matzek said. “I don’t know that it helps you much out on the field, but I feel left out not drinking something. All we got is (guys) chugging Red Bulls down there.”