Kyle Muller joins list of young Braves starters competing for innings

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Braves pitcher Kyle Muller on his outing during doubleheader against the Mets.

The Braves didn’t expect Huascar Ynoa or Tucker Davidson to produce as they did. It remains to be seen how Kyle Muller’s 2021 season unfolds, but now that he’s officially a major leaguer, he’s joining the line of unproven starters competing for innings.

Bryse Wilson, Tucker Davidson and Kyle Wright already were battling for opportunities. Davidson secured a regular spot every fifth day before tightness in his left forearm landed him on the injured list. Wilson allowed five runs in four innings Sunday, which was his first major-league outing since May 22. Wright hasn’t pitched in the majors since April 16.

The left-handed Muller will throw his name into the mix. He recently has risen from Triple-A Gwinnett to make two major-league appearances, his latest being his first career start. He held the Mets to one run — which scored via a wild pitch — on one hit in four innings. He kept the Braves in a game against Cy Young front-runner Jacob deGrom.

“I was pleased with it,” Muller said. “It was exciting. I got (heckled) a little bit in the bullpen. That was pretty cool. I hadn’t had that happen in a while. So that was cool. I thought I did a way better job than the other day (relief appearance) of executing pitches with two strikes. And that was huge. I got behind a couple guys, but then I came back and made some good pitches. So that was also another plus. I was proud I gave us a chance as long as I was in there.”

As for how Muller, 23, soaked the experience in: “I went out early to just get a feel of the stadium. I went on the mound when the tarp is on and just looked around. So it wasn’t foreign to me when I got out there. And on the screen it was like a picture of both of us (him and deGrom) and it’s like, me facing him. Then you have his numbers (shown) versus my one-inning numbers (in his debut last week). I wanted to take a picture of it so bad, but I was like, ‘No, don’t do that. Act like you’ve been here before.’ But it was super cool to watch him pitch and obviously pitch against him.”

The Braves lost the game 4-2, but Muller did exactly what the team hoped: He covered four frames of a seven-inning game. Manager Brian Snitker praised Muller, saying he threw the ball “extremely well” and lauding the breaking ball.

For the Braves fans unaware of Muller’s profile, it probably didn’t take long to figure out his selling points. The Texas native is an imposing presence, standing 6-foot-7 and listed at 250 pounds (he said he’s closer to 265).

Muller’s velocity hovers in the mid-to-high 90s. His fastball grades as the best in the system, according to Baseball America. But to reach his potential as a starter — or to even stay a starter long term — Muller needs to refine his secondary pitches.

The southpaw has a four-pitch mix, including a curveball change-up and slider. He said the curveball is his most advanced off-speed pitch. In his first start, Muller used his fastball 57% of the time. It averaged 94.9 mph. He threw 12 sliders, which prompted nine swings including four whiffs.

“I love watching him pitch and would love to see him pitch like that in the future, as well,” outfielder Ronald Acuna said via team interpreter Franco Garcia. “He did a great job overall.”

Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna (13) and New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) chat during a pause in action in the second game of a doubleheader, Monday, June 21, 2021, in New York. (Kathy Willens/AP)
Caption
Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna (13) and New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) chat during a pause in action in the second game of a doubleheader, Monday, June 21, 2021, in New York. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Credit: Kathy Willens

Credit: Kathy Willens

Among the highlights of Muller’s outing, however, wasn’t something he did on the mound. He drew an eight-pitch walk off deGrom in his second career at-bat in the third inning to become the Braves’ first base runner.

“That at-bat against deGrom was awesome,” starting pitcher Ian Anderson said. “He’s so hyped up. He’s probably more hyped up at the plate than he might be on the mound, which is funny.”

Muller’s recollection of the at-bat: “I figured the first pitch I got was going to be the best one, so I swung as hard as I could. After that, then I think he threw another fastball and then three sliders up. If he’d have thrown the good one that he threw to every one of our hitters, it might have been a different story. But yeah, I was pumped.”

There’s reason to be encouraged by Muller. The Braves, as they have all season, are hoping someone steps up and earns a regular role. That’s not to say that’s their expectation for Muller, whose big-league career isn’t even a week old, but the team would welcome him forcing his way into their regular plans, just as Ynoa and Davidson did before him.

“He’s got the makeup; he’s got the stuff,” Anderson said. “So it’s exciting to see him get a chance.”

The question now: When will his next chance be?