Braves right-hander Aaron Blair’s 2017 Grapefruit League debut was looking like too many of his starts during his rookie season: a walk, followed by more base runners, leading to a blow-up inning.
Blair changed that script during two innings pitched against the Astros.
He walked the lead-off batters in both innings and subsequently allowed hits but limited the damage to one run.
“That was something I couldn’t do last year,” Blair said. “I would get in trouble with the walk and then the base hit and then it would kind of just all fall apart.”
Blair followed Julio Teheran to the mound in the third inning and immediately walked Norichika Aoki. Colin Moran followed with a single before Blair struck out Carlos Correa.
After Evan Gattis knocked a one-run single, Blair got Tyler White to ground into a double play.
“To walk out of that first inning with just the one run, getting a double play when I needed it, that was huge,” Blair said.
Blair walked Derek Fisher to begin the fourth inning. He struck out Jon Kemmer and Reid Brignac around Juan Centeno’s single.
“He limited damage,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He kept pitching. Command wasn’t great. I saw a couple change-ups that were pretty good but the fastball command wasn’t really good.”
Blair got out of the jams with strikeout pitches that included a slider that he’s added to his repertoire. He said he delivered four consecutive sliders to Correa, including the strikeout pitch with a full count.
Blair didn’t throw any sliders during 15 games with the Braves in 2016, according to Pitch f/x tracking data.
“Considering I don’t have a feel really for the fastball (now) being able to turn to the slider when I needed it rather than just fastball-changeup, it was good to have that in my back pocket,” he said.
The Braves acquired Blair from the Diamondbacks as part of the December 2015 trade that also netted them Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson. Blair was billed as close to major-league ready but he posted a 7.59 ERA over 15 starts.
The Braves signed veterans Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey for rotation stability this season while young pitchers Blair, Matt Wisler and Mike Foltynewicz continue to develop.
“I didn’t take it as a bad thing for me,” Blair said of those signings. “I took it as a good thing for the Brave. With my development last year I was a little bit behind. They felt like I needed more time to develop and that’s just what I’ve got to go with.”