NEW YORK – A.J. Minter made it to his 14th major league relief appearance before the Braves left-hander finally walked a batter, just two games shy of the major league record for such walk-free games at the outset of a career.
Minter did it in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Mets, pitching in the most high-leverage situation he’s been used in so far in a big-league career that began Aug. 23 and has been thus far quite impressive and overpowering.
Minter has a stunning 21 strikeouts with one walk in 13 1/3 innings, with a 3.38 ERA and .231 opponents’ average.
“He got on a nice little run,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s a confident kid. He trusts his stuff, he’s a confident guy. He’s got the stuff to get anybody out, but that was a little more high-leverage thing than he’s ever experienced here. Just take it and learn from it.”
The major-league record for appearances without a walk to begin a career is 15 games by the Giants’ Hunter Strickland in 2014-15.
Minter had been used in earlier innings until Tuesday, when he entered the game with the score tied to start the ninth inning and gave up a leadoff single to Kevin Plawecki, whose two-run homer in the seventh inning accounted for the only runs off starter R.A. Dickey in 6 2/3 innings. The Mets tied the score with an unearned run in the eighth off reliever Sam Freeman.
After Plawecki’s leadoff hit in the ninth, Minter walked Dominic Smith, his first MLB walk coming against the 51st batter he faced. Travis Taijeron followed with a walk-off single to give Minter a loss in his first big-league decision.
It was his first time in such a high-leverage situation, but it certainly won’t be the last. The Braves project Minter as a top set-up man or potential closer in the not-too-distant future, and no one would be surprised if he’s in a prominent role in the team’s 2018 bullpen from opening day.
“I want to be in those spots, that’s the thing,” Minter said. “And I felt confident going into the game last night. I felt juiced up and amped up. And I think that might have hurt me a little bit, because I was so amped up and I was maybe trying to do too much. You know, I got outside of myself a little bit, because my arm felt so good and my velocity was up. I think I was trying to over-throw and I got outside the pitcher that I am.
“And it was definitely a learning experience. Just realize that I can’t get outside myself and try to do too much in those situations.”
Told what Minter said about being a bit over-amped, Snitker said, “That’s understandable. I’m glad he got to experience that, what that is. That was one reason I wanted to put him in, just to let him experience that. Because he’s been really, really good. It’s different (at the end of games), it’s a different feel and everything, so it’ll be good for him.”
Minter’s 21-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio is astounding, particularly considering he had 12 walks with 30 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings during his 26 minor league appearances this season.
“Yeah, I mean, I struggled in the minor leagues, I was walking quite a few guys,” he said. “And everything just kind of clicked once I got up (to the majors). I don’t know if it was being more focused, more prepared, but everything just kind of clicked once I got here. I felt comfortable. Just placing the ball where I want to.”