Lifelong Braves fan Collin McHugh finally gets to play for his hometown team

Rays pitcher Collin McHugh delivers against the Red Sox during Game 4 of an American League Division Series in 2021. McHugh recently signed with the Braves. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Credit: AP

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Rays pitcher Collin McHugh delivers against the Red Sox during Game 4 of an American League Division Series in 2021. McHugh recently signed with the Braves. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Credit: AP

NORTH PORT, Fla. — When Collin McHugh, a lifelong Braves fan, signed with the team this week, he called his wife, then his mother. His mom was speechless. She couldn’t find the words to describe his journey coming full circle to meet his fandom.

It’s still surreal to the right-handed reliever.

“Six-year-old me just freaked out,” McHugh said of signing with Atlanta. “I’ve been a Braves fan as long as I’ve been a baseball fan, which has been a long time. There’s a lot of who I am today that is the way it is because the Braves were competitive when I was growing up.”

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McHugh, who went to Providence Christian Academy in Lilburn, now will be part of a group trying to repeat as World Series champions. McHugh provides the Braves with versatility, as he can pitch late in games, go multiple innings, handle both righties and lefties, and more.

He went from watching Braves postseason games from his couch last year to playing on the same team as the guys who went on the incredible run. You can tell in his voice that he wants to be here.

“A kid from Atlanta, a kid who wore 31 because of Greg Maddux, who met John Smoltz at a Krystal when I was 10, who just wanted to emulate Tom Glavine on the mound, be stoic as much as I could,” McHugh said. “I am the baseball player that I am because of watching those guys. And so to be part of this storied organization, in the place we are right now with the momentum that we’ve built, I couldn’t have asked for a better spot to land.”

McHugh said the Braves’ aggressiveness in pursuing another title – and making the moves to help get it done – became a big factor in his decision to sign with them. For four consecutive years (excluding the shortened 2020 season), McHugh’s teams have won at least 100 games.

The Braves certainly aren’t playing it safe. They’ve shown they want to continue contending now and in the future.

This week, the Braves acquired Matt Olson and gave him the most lucrative contract in team history. They signed McHugh hours later. They brought back Eddie Rosario the next day. They’ve made a couple of moves to add depth.

The 34-year-old McHugh pitched to a 1.55 ERA over 64 innings with the Rays last season. That marked the fourth-lowest ERA in the majors among pitchers with as many innings. McHugh’s 2.11 ERA as a reliever since 2018 is the second lowest in the majors for pitchers with at least 100 innings in that duration.

Now he’s with the Braves, who appear well-positioned to contend once again.

“They’ve already got so much talent in this clubhouse,” McHugh said. “Obviously they’ve got a connection here and a bond that’s built by winning, which is something you can’t really replicate in baseball. I want to come in and help where I can and become as much of a seamless part of this as much as I can, as quickly as I can.”

Adam Duvall in center field

With Ronald Acuña out until late May, Adam Duvall is expected to be the Braves’ primary center fielder. He had only played there nine times in a career that began in 2014 before the Braves put him there 22 times last season.

Duvall said the biggest aspects of playing the outfield are getting good jumps and getting good reads on balls. He also prides himself on cutting down runners and preventing them from taking an extra base.

Asked what goes into reading swings, he said: “I think there’s a couple things. One is location, and the second one is sort of like timing. You can kind of tell when someone’s early or if someone’s going to get beat. ... And when you’re out there, it’s more of a reaction. It’s not like I’m thinking about that. If you’re trying to think about it, you’re not just reacting.”

Braves, Mike Soroka agree to contract

The Braves and right-hander Mike Soroka agreed to a non-guaranteed contract worth $2.8 million for the 2022 season, the club announced Thursday.

Soroka, who is on the 60-day injured list as he comes back from a torn Achilles tendon, was eligible for arbitration for the first time this year. However, the sides avoided that by agreeing to something now.

Grapefruit League opener starters

Braves manager Brian Snitker said right-hander Bryce Elder will start the club’s Grapefruit League opener Friday versus the Twins at CoolToday Park. Elder is the Braves’ eighth-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline.

Asked which big leaguers would play in the field, Snitker flashed a smile and said: “You’ll see when I put the lineup out.”

This week, Snitker said big leaguers could get two at-bats and play four innings in the field to begin the spring schedule.

Three guys Brian Snitker watched

Young outfielders Drew Waters and Michael Harris – the organization’s top two prospects, respectively, on MLB Pipeline – were hitters in Thursday’s live batting practice session. Asked about them, Snitker said he was actually more interested in watching the young arms on the mound.

He specifically mentioned right-handers Alan Rangel, Freddy Tarnok and Spencer Strider.

He said Rangel, the Braves’ No. 25 prospect, “impressed” him. Tarnok, the No. 9 prospect, has come a long way, the manager added. He also liked what he saw from Strider, who debuted late last season.

Because of baseball’s long season, and the injuries that may occur, organizations need to keep a close eye on players casual fans may not consider.

“You see all those guys, and there’s potential for us using all of them,” Snitker said. “It takes a lot of guys to get through this season, especially now. For me, everybody’s in play.”

Max Fried, Huascar Ynoa impress

Max Fried and Huascar Ynoa both pitched in Thursday’s live batting practice session.

Snitker seemed to think Fried looked good. Nothing unexpected there.

But Ynoa is coming off right shoulder inflammation that forced him to be scratched from opening a game in last year’s National League Championship Series. His performance in the live BP session seemed to be encouraging for the Braves.

“Looked good. Really good for the time he missed,” Snitker said. “And he looks healthy, that’s a big thing. He’s a work in progress still, but I liked what I saw right there for the first time out.”