Two years ago, AJ Smith-Shawver pitched for his high school team in Texas.

Let that sink in.

Two. Years. Ago.

On Friday, the 20-year-old made his first career MLB start in front of 40,297 fans at Truist Park as the Braves mounted their fifth consecutive comeback to beat the Nationals, 3-2. Smith-Shawver pitched well, and Atlanta has won six in a row.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher AJ Smith-Shawver watches from the dugout as the Braves bat during the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Truist Park, Friday, June 9, 2023, in Atlanta. This is Smith-Shawver’s first MLB start. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Five observations:

1. The moment it set in for Smith-Shawver did not come until the sixth inning, when manager Brian Snitker walked out to the mound to remove him from the game after a successful debut.

“OK, wow,” Smith-Shawver thought. “We got the job done. Gave us a chance to stay in the ballgame.”

Three years ago, Smith-Shawver, then a stud quarterback, began truly focusing on pitching.

Yes, you read that correctly. The kid who pitched for the Atlanta Braves on Friday? He did not specialize in it, as many others do. He chucked footballs before he spun baseballs. He’s a perfect blend of pure talent and an incredible work ethic.

The righthander’s unbelievable story reached its latest juncture on Friday, when the Braves called on him to start against the Nationals. He did a nice job of maintaining his composure and dealing with all of the emotions that come with starting a big-league contest for the first time.

“I just tried to look at it like it’s just cool,” Smith-Shawver said. “Not everybody gets to do this every day. I just kind of tried to soak it all in in the moment, just kind of look around and be like, ‘Wow, we’re here. It’s time to get ready and go.’”

2. In case it did not set in earlier, he is 20 years old.


This outing was impressive.

“Yeah, for 20,” said Sean Murphy, who caught him. “I mean, I can’t imagine doing that. I wasn’t anywhere close to that at 20. And for his first start, he came out, he was great.”

Because the runs were unearned, Smith-Shawver’s big-league ERA is 0.00 after 7 2/3 innings at this level. (He pitched 2 1/3 hitless innings in Arizona on Sunday.) And on Friday, he allowed only three hits – the only three hits he’s given up in the majors.

One was a 71 mph single. The two others were 79 mph singles.

This was a success.

“Especially when you say he’s 20 years old and drafted in 2021, it’s impressive,” Murphy said. “He came in and, even his first appearance in Arizona, he looked like he belonged right away. And tonight he proved it.”

Added Smith-Shawver: “I don’t think the feeling that I had out there today was normal comparatively to anywhere I pitched in the minors, really, but I think I started settling in probably around the second inning. I think after I get that first one in, just kind of come out the second, already got through it one time, so just kind of try settle in a little bit. I think it just kind of got better throughout the game.”

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher AJ Smith-Shawver (62) is greeted by Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker after he was removed from the mound during the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Truist Park, Friday, June 9, 2023, in Atlanta. The Braves won 3-2. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

icon to expand image

Credit: Jason Getz /

3. When he departed, Smith-Shawver was on the hook for what would’ve been an unfortunate loss.

In the top of the first inning, Murphy’s errant throw on a stolen base allowed the runner to also take third, then score on a soft single. In the sixth, after Smith-Shawver left the game, Collin McHugh served up a run-scoring double. It was an unearned run, as the runner had reached because of Arcia’s error.

But these are the Braves.

Haven’t you heard about their penchant for comebacks?

Down a run in the second inning, the Braves scored on Arcia’s groundout. Trailing by a run in the eighth, they took the lead by scoring twice – once on a groundout to first base, then on Arcia’s ground ball that would’ve been the third out if Nationals shortstop CJ Abrams made the play.

4. One curiosity: Smith-Shawver’s velocity was down.

In Phoenix, his four-seam fastball averaged 94.7 mph and topped out at 97.1 mph. On Friday, he threw only two pitches above 95 mph and only touched 95.8 mph. He mostly sat 91-94 mph as the game progressed.

“He just needs to take a breath and relax,” Snitker said. “...It’s in there. I don’t know that he trusts it right now.”

Smith-Shawver struck out two batters and walked two.

5. For the first time this season, the Braves are 15 games over .500.

The guy who started their latest victory?

He arrived sooner than many expected.

“It’s hard to believe,” Murphy said. “It takes guys a lot longer to get here.”

Stat to know

20, 202 - At 20 years and 202 days old (as of Friday), Smith-Shawver was the youngest Braves starter since Julio Teheran in 2011, and the second-youngest pitcher to start a major-league game this season.


“I’ve had two outings. I think there’s a lot to build on. I think there’s a lot I can still do better. But it’s definitely nice to have those underneath the belt and just kind of see what I need to work on now and just keep getting better day in, day out.”-Smith-Shawver

Up next

A pair of 24-year-old lefties will face off in Saturday’s game, which begins at 4:10 p.m. Jared Shuster will start for the Braves, MacKenzie Gore for the Nationals.