Braves pitching prospect Aaron Blair has been called up from Triple-A Gwinnett to make his major league debut Sunday afternoon by starting against the New York Mets and ace Jacob deGrom in a series finale at Turner Field.
It’ll be an opportunity for the skidding Braves and their fans to see something potentially positive and fresh, after Atlanta lost its fourth consecutive game Saturday night to fall to a majors-worst 4-13.
“He came into (spring training) and made a good impression on all of us,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “We’ve definitely heard about what he’s been doing in Triple-A. He’s off to a great start so hopefully he can continue that tomorrow.”
Blair, 23, pitched seven hitless innings Tuesday against Durham, with 10 strikeouts and one walk. The big right-hander has been one of the International League’s top pitchers, going 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA and stingy 0.79 WHIP (walks-plus-hits per inning pitched) in three starts.
“If he has a little fastball command, it could be a fun day for him,” Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said. “He’ll definitely keep us in the ballgame. He’s a very good competitor out there, throws a lot of strikes. And apparently he’s doing pretty well (in Triple-A). I expect good things.”
Left-handed reliever Matt Marksberry was optioned to Gwinnett to open a roster spot for Blair. Marksberry was called up from Double-A Mississippi and drove to Atlanta on Saturday, then made his season debut Saturday night before being told afterward that he’d been sent up the road to Gwinnett.
Blair was chosen for the call-up over Mike Foltynewicz, who’s coming back from September surgery and missed some time last week while traveling due to a death in his family.
Foltynewicz is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts at Gwinnett, and gave up four hits, four runs and four walks in five innings of his most recent start Monday. That came after he missed some of his usual between-starts work to be with family members.
Blair has allowed 10 hits and five walks with 22 strikeouts in 19 innings at Gwinnett. The Braves got him from Arizona along with center fielder Ender Inciarte and top shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson in a blockbuster December trade that sent Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks.
“From the reports, everybody who’s seen him likes him,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Here’s a guy that’s going to compete. We’re looking for a solid outing from him.”
The Braves will be hoping he can stay calm and settle into a groove in his first major league game.
“He has a great arm,” Freeman said. “He’s going to be excited, so hopefully we get a good start out of him.”
Blair will take what would’ve been the rotation turn of Williams Perez, who was optioned to Triple-A Wednesday with a 5.11 ERA and more walks (eight) than strikeouts (six) in 12 1/3 innings.
Foltynewicz began the season in Triple-A after being sidelined for part of spring training while continuing his his recovery from season-ending September surgery that removed part of a rib, a procedure to remove pressure after he developed blood clots in his pitching arm.
He has 13 strikeouts and 10 walks in 15 innings over three starts at Gwinnett. His next turn would’ve been Saturday, but prospect Lucas Sims was promoted from Double-A to Triple-A and got the start Saturday, with Foltynewicz expected to be bumped back one day and start Sunday for Gwinnett.
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