‘Just trying to breathe’: Braves’ AJ Smith-Shawver has successful MLB debut

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

PHOENIX – The Braves on Tuesday called up top prospect AJ Smith-Shawver. Since then, he waited to touch a big-league mound.

He sat through two games in Oakland, a flight to Phoenix, an off day and two games in Phoenix.

And on Sunday, his moment arrived.

“I was just amped up,” he said of what he felt when throwing warm-up pitches. “I mean, just trying to breathe, just keep a level head and just finish through the catcher. But yeah, I was pretty amped up going into that.”

It went really well: Smith-Shawver pitched 2-1/3 hitless innings. He struck out three of the seven batters he faced. He issued one walk.

Most importantly, he kept the Braves’ deficit at a run, which gave the lineup an opportunity to mount a comeback. And with the Braves down to their final out, Eddie Rosario launched a go-ahead grand slam in an 8-5 win.

After the game, Smith-Shawver saw his parents. This day was special for everyone.

“We’ve been to countless practices throughout my whole entire life, lessons,” he said. “It’s just a lot of work that led up to this moment. I’m glad that they’re just fired up, just like I am. It’s just a really cool experience to have that with your family.”

Of course, manager Brian Snitker knew he had a new weapon in his bullpen. He tried to find the correct time to use Smith-Shawver, who last pitched on May 25 for Triple-A Gwinnett.

Snitker decided on the bottom of the sixth inning in Sunday’s game.

“It’s so hard in that situation to pick what’s the best time, what’s the right time to bring a kid in?” Snitker said. “We were gonna give it to him if we’d taken the lead. There’s never a perfect (time), but that was probably about as good a time as any, and I thought he handled himself really, really well. His stuff’s really good.”

To begin his debut, he set down the top of Arizona’s lineup in order. He struck out talented rookie Corbin Carroll looking for the third out.

He then struck out two more batters in a clean seventh inning.

In the eighth, he walked a batter and got another to fly out before Snitker removed him after a job well done.

“I knew exactly what I was gonna see,” said Michael Soroka, who spent a couple weeks on the same Gwinnett team as Smith-Shawver. “I said before: He goes out there and attacks. You can see he’s a competitor, he’s a great athlete. He left it all out there, so it was really awesome to see and it was great.”

Smith-Shawver’s four-seam fastball touched 97 mph. He tossed 22 fastballs, 13 sliders and four curveballs.

The Braves plan to use Smith-Shawver out of the bullpen, which will allow them to make the transition to the majors easier for him. He’s the next starter up if they need a starting pitcher.

At 20 years and 196 days old (as of June 4), Smith-Shawver is the youngest pitcher to appear for Atlanta since Julio Teheran, who debuted at 20 years and 111 days old.

On Tuesday, he was in Triple A.

On Sunday, he debuted in front of family and friends.

“I talked to a few of my family and friends about it,” Smith-Shawver said. “I just keep telling them: It doesn’t really feel real yet. Guess I’m just kind of waiting to get settled in a little bit. I think this outing’s going to help. A pretty cool last few days.”