Significant moves Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos made for 2019 season

5 Atlanta Braves debuts worth remembering

Recently signed free agent pitcher Dallas Keuchel is expected to make his first major-league start for the Braves Friday in Washington.

Keuchel and the Braves agreed on a $13 million contract for the rest of the season earlier this month.

The 31-year-old left-hander pitched two seven-inning stints in the Braves’ farm system last week, throwing 77 pitches for Single-A Rome on June 10 and 106 pitches for Double-A Mississippi five days later.

Where Keuchel’s Braves stint falls in Atlanta lore is to be determined. Here are five memorable Braves debuts:

The Braves' Tony Cloninger throws a pitch during the first game at Atlanta Stadium in 1966. (AJC file photo)

BASEBALL IN ATLANTA

Major league baseball came to the Southeast for the first time” on April 12, 1966.

The Braves, which two years earlier had agreed to move from Milwaukee, made their Atlanta debut before 50,671 fans at Atlanta Stadium. 

The April 13, 1966, Atlanta Constitution said of the night: “Guys in business suits hobnobbed with laborers in shirtsleeves” about “how great it was to see the likes of Eddie Mathews and Joe Torre,” while “young girls sang lustily, ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’ and nobody even minded the corn.”

Tony Cloninger — a 24-game winner the previous season in Milwaukee — made the start, pitching a 13-inning complete game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Atlanta’s Torre hit two homers, but it was a two-run homer by Pirates Hall of Famer Willie Stargell that sealed the game — a, 3-2, Atlanta loss.

GREG MADDUX

The Braves signed 26-year-old Cy Young winner Greg Maddux — even as the Yankees dangled larger dollars — after the 1992 season.

The $28 million starter made his Braves debut in the 1993 opener against his former team in Chicago, where he received a chilly reception. With the temperature hovering at 43-degrees on April 5, 1993, Maddux was booed with every trip to the mound and plate. 

In 8-1/3 innnings, Maddux allowed five hits while walking three and striking out four in the, 1-0, shutout. 
Maddux finished the season 20-10 with the lowest ERA in the National League en route to winning his second straight Cy Young.

Pitcher John Smoltz comes out of the Braves locker room to take the field before going to warm up for his first start of the 2001 season.
Photo: Marlene Karas/AJC

JOHN SMOLTZ

Before July 22, 2001, John Smoltz had pitched in 361 career games. But when he entered the game against the Montreal Expos at Turner Field to pitch the ninth inning, it was his first as designated closer. Smoltz underwent Tommy John surgery late in the 1999 season. He rejoined the rotation in 2001 and after two lengthy stints on the disabled list, Smoltz returned in late July as a reliever. 

In a non-save opportunity against the Expos, Smoltz threw nine pitches — hitting 97 mph on the radar and also striking out Brad Wilkerson on a biting slider.

“I think I’m in this position for a reason,” Smoltz said at the time. “It doesn’t mean it’s a permanent one, but I’ll make the best of it.”

He recorded 10 saves in 11 opportunities that season. He compiled 150 saves in a Hall of Fame career.

Brave rookie Jason Heyward is congratulated by third-base coach Brian Snitker while rounding bases during his first inning, three-run homer.
Photo: Phil Skinner/AJC

JASON HEYWARD

With two Braves base-runners on, rookie outfielder Jason Heyward, from McDounogh, stepped up to his first career at-bat at Turner Field on April 5, 2010, to a chorus of “Let’s go, Heyward!” from Braves fans.

After taking two pitches from Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano, Heyward took his first swing, crushing a fastball into the Braves’ bullpen behind the right-field wall, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

Heyward, who also had a run-scoring single in the eighth, was 2-for-5 with four RBIs in his debut.

AUSTIN RILEY

Heyward isn’t the only Brave to make a lasting impression in his first major-league game.

Outfielder Austin Riley brought his home-run swing with him to Atlanta earlier this season.
Riley, who hit 13 home runs in 18 games for Triple-A Gwinnett before being promoted to the big leagues, homered on his second at-bat against Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha at SunTrust Park.

His solo home run in the fourth inning of the Braves’ game against St. Louis was estimated to travel 438 feet into the left-center field stands at a 109.1-mph exit velocity.

It looked something like this:

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