Braves await debuts of three relievers

Braves reliever Chris Martin delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at Target Field in Minneapolis. The Twins defeated the Braves, 5-3.
Caption
Braves reliever Chris Martin delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the ninth inning Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at Target Field in Minneapolis. The Twins defeated the Braves, 5-3.

Credit: Hannah Foslien

Credit: Hannah Foslien

While injury news at Braves camp has focused on Cole Hamels and Freddie Freeman, there’s still a trio of relievers yet to pitch in an exhibition game.

Right-handers Chris Martin and Jacob Webb, along with lefty A.J. Minter, haven’t appeared in a game. The Braves have brought them along slowly after each had his 2019 season ended by injury.

Martin suffered an oblique injury while warming up during Game 1 of the NLDS. It not only ended his campaign, but it also ignited a downward sequence that helped cost the Braves a win in a series they lost in five games.

The Braves re-signed Martin to a two-year, $14 million deal this winter in an effort to construct a deep, experienced bullpen. Coming off the injury and with a history of back issues, there is little reason for the Braves to rush Martin into action.

“He threw a side (session Friday) and looked really good,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I don’t know when they have him scheduled to get on the mound, but today was very encouraging. They slowed him down coming in knowing those guys don’t need a bunch (of work). Guys in that role, we can get him ready in a hurry.”

Minter and Webb have looked sharp in their side sessions, Snitker said, but neither is scheduled to pitch in a game just yet. Minter, after a nightmare season that saw him lose his closer job, was placed on the 60-day injured list Sept. 12 with left elbow inflammation.

The southpaw pitched in only one game last spring because of shoulder soreness from a fender-bender accident. He never found his footing, posting a 7.06 ERA in 36 regular-season games.

Over that same time, Webb unexpectedly emerged into a legitimate middle-relief option. He had a 1.39 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 36 appearances before a right elbow impingement ended his season. Webb underwent surgery before the conclusion of the regular season.

“They’re doing the progressions,” Snitker said. “They ended the year hurt, but they’re both doing great, that’s the good thing. They’re both feeling really good. They were behind getting here, rightfully so, so they still have to do the (batting practice), live BPs and all that. They’re both right where the training staff wanted them to be right now and they feel good.”

Minter and Webb are competing to make the team. The Braves’ bullpen is much more crowded than it’s been in past years, and Mark Melancon, Will Smith, Shane Greene, Darren O’Day, Luke Jackson and Martin are locked in. Josh Tomlin also is likely to make the team as a long reliever, which would leave one vacancy in an eight-man group.

The Braves have one southpaw, Smith, among those seven, possibly giving an advantage to lefties vying for that spot. Though new MLB rules mandating a three-batter minimum for relievers removed the lefty specialist from the equation.

However the team aligns its roster for opening day March 26, pitchers such as Minter and Webb are quality depth to have over the course of the season.

“There’s not any rush to get them back out there,” Snitker said. “They don’t need to stockpile. We have plenty of time for relievers to get everything they need. Even for some of those guys, if we need to do simulated games, we can create innings for relievers easily, too.”

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