The Braves have already experimented with multiple closers throughout the year, and they’ll be forced to do so with mainstay Arodys Vizcaino sidelined for the next week.
Vizcaino was placed on the 10-day disabled list Sunday with right shoulder inflammation, retroactive to June 21. The Braves hope their usual closer can return in a week, but they’ll be tasked with balancing the ninth inning in the meantime.
Manager Brian Snitker said A.J. Minter and Dan Winkler will handle closer duties in Vizcaino’s absence. Winkler blew a save opportunity Friday, admitting he was amped up in that spot. Minter has more experience in the role, but it’s his first full season in the bigs.
“We have guys down there who are capable, have been in the high-leverage situations,” Snitker said. “It’s good the other day that Winks got a taste of what that really is, what that feels like. Because it’s a different animal. We talk about that ninth inning, it’s different. It’s why those guys make a lot of money to pitch in it.”
Winkler allowed four runs in 1/3 inning in his last save opportunity, ballooning his ninth-inning ERA to 13.50 in four appearances (2-2/3 inning sample size). That compares to a 1.62 ERA in the eighth, and a 2.08 mark in the seventh.
Some statistics support Winkler as a closer candidate. He’s held opponents to a .209 average when pitching with his team within two runs. He’s held opponents a .171 average and .293 on-base percentage in high-leverage situations.
“It’s good that he experienced that, because I don’t think you ever know how you’re going to react or what that feel is until you actually do it,” Snitker said of Winkler trying to finish Friday’s game. “Guys tell you you can sit back and look, but it’s different with the lead and even is in a tied game. Mint’s done it before. They both are definitely capable of handling that job until Vizzy comes back.”
Minter, meanwhile, has long been presumed the Braves’ eventual closer. He has a 4.70 ninth-inning ERA in eight games, while holding opposing hitters to a .200 average and .286 on-base percentage in high-leverage situations.
Right-handers are hitting just .155 off Winkler, while they’ve notched a .292 mark against Minter. Left-handed hitters hold a .250 average against Winkler, and a .220 posting versus Minter.
If Vizcaino returns July 1 as the team hopes, they’d only play six games (including Sunday) without him. The Braves had already been sprinkling in closing opportunities for Minter, while they’d hoped to implement Winkler more as well.
Vizcaino’s inflammation had been building up, and the Braves realized Saturday night it’d be best to rest him for a week.
“I’m hoping this DL will take care of it,” Snitker said. “It’s getting better. It’s better than it was a week ago today, the last time he pitched. We had the off day, we shut him down in Toronto thinking Friday would be good. It’s getting better but it’s still not where it needs to be.
“But we’re thinking with the DL, maybe he can come back a week from today. We’ll see. Again, it’ll be a day-to-day think until he feels good and gets on the mound, amps it up. You just never know.”
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