Touki Toussaint makes adjustments entering new season

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Touki Toussaint delivers a pitch in the third inning against the Boston Red Sox Monday, March 1, 2021, in Fort Myers, Fla. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

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Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Touki Toussaint delivers a pitch in the third inning against the Boston Red Sox Monday, March 1, 2021, in Fort Myers, Fla. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

It’s easy to forget Braves right-hander Touki Toussaint is just 24 years old, but that fact isn’t lost on the player or his employer.

Toussaint has appeared in 38 games (11 starts), posting a 5.97 ERA. He’s struck out 107 hitters and issued 63 walks in 95 innings. Uninspiring numbers, but the game doesn’t come quickly to everyone. He’s flashed the talent that made him a first-round pick in 2014, he just hasn’t done so consistently. That’s led to a lot of time sitting in traffic on I-285 traveling between Truist Park and Triple-A Gwinnett.

“It does (get frustrating), but that’s human nature,” Toussaint said. “You want to be great. You don’t want to struggle or fail. It gets frustrating, but that’s the nature of the game. I’m glad I’m only 24 and I have a chance to be someone I want to be.”

Finding oneself in baseball isn’t an easy task. Look at Max Fried, for instance. Fried is now viewed as a frontline starter after he had a 2.25 ERA in his 11 starts last season. He didn’t find that success immediately. The southpaw appeared in only nine games across his first two seasons, battling blister issues and bouncing between the majors and minors. He had a 4.02 ERA over 33 appearances (30 starts) in 2019, setting up his breakout campaign.

That doesn’t mean Toussaint will achieve the same heights. It’s a reminder that Mike Soroka and Ian Anderson are outliers, not the expectation. Like Fried, Toussaint has an impressive repertoire led by a wipe-out curveball. There are been moments, it’s just been a matter of finding consistent command.

“I look at Touki, with his ability to spin the ball and pure stuff — it seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s still a young guy trying to figure things out,” manager Brian Snitker said. “And he keeps working and studying. He has a durable arm, too. That’s the thing with Touki. He’s a versatile guy, he can be a starter or reliever. I don’t know what his niche is going to be down the road. I guess it will depend on the team he’s on and where the needs are. But the stuff is too good. It’s such a good arsenal that you hope one day (it clicks). It’s in there. Sometimes it just takes guys a little longer to figure the whole thing out, and that’s OK.”

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Pitcher Touki Toussaint gets in some morning work from the practice mounds Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, at CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Pitcher Touki Toussaint gets in some morning work from the practice mounds Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, at CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Pitcher Touki Toussaint gets in some morning work from the practice mounds Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, at CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla.

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Toussaint worked diligently in the offseason to correct mechanical inconsistencies. It’s just spring training, but the early returns are promising. Toussaint has been having a solid camp, most recently impressing March 12 when he allowed one hit over three scoreless innings against the Twins.

As always, Toussaint needs to show his improvement over a larger sample size, but it’s a start.

“It was a mechanical issue for me and I worked really hard this offseason to get that issue fixed and it’s paying off,” Toussaint said of his adjustments. “Just being able to repeat my delivery. My glove side was low, I got more linear to the plate. Got my glove side up. I told myself to be more athletic instead of becoming a pitcher. Just be athletic and throw the baseball over the plate. That’s basically what my job is.”

Toussaint has also adjusted mentally. He’s emphasizing the day-by-day mantra. As boring a cliché as that is, it’s simplified his approach. Toussaint admitted in years past he’d look too far ahead.

“I took it upon myself to slow things down and be happy with what I’m doing,” Toussaint said. “Take that and build on that, and not try to outdo who I am.”

It’s possible, though not likely at this juncture, that Toussaint makes the opening-day roster. He’s not concerned about that detail (“I haven’t thought about that. I’m staying in the moment”). He knows he’ll have opportunities to help the Braves over the 162-game season. He’s had those chances in the past, and while there have been some stellar outings, he hasn’t found a longer period of success. That’s the challenge awaiting him in the coming months.

Patience has an expiration date. Toussaint can’t be “young depth” forever. Entering 2021, he remains one of the Braves’ great enigmas. Maybe this is the season that finally provides more clarity.

“There’s just so much upside with a kid like that,” Snitker said. “Eventually, he’s going to figure it out and he’s going to be very successful.”