Brian Snitker: Braves ‘a little farther along’ than expected in camp

Credit: AJC

Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies addresses the team's preparations and protocols getting ready for the 2020 shortened season. (Courtesy Atlanta Braves)

Credit: AJC

After one week, the Braves are further along than manager Brian Snitker expected.

During his daily media briefing, Snitker said he’s pleased with the team’s progress through seven days. Braves camp has quieted this week after a newsworthy first several days that included four players testing positive for COVID-19, one coach opting out and two players deciding against playing.

The Braves held controlled scrimmages on Wednesday and Thursday. They’re prepping for a more serious intrasquad game on Monday, which is 11 days before opening day.

“I don’t have any doubt that the pitchers are going to be stretched out to where we anticipated they would be,” Snitker said. “We’re watching the intrasquads, and the amount of time we have left, I think the position players are going to be in good shape too. They’re getting a lot of batting practice, a lot of live at-bats in game situations, running the bases and all that.

“I feel good about where we’re at right now. We’re a little farther along than where I thought we would be when we started.”

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Notes from Friday:

-- The Braves will host the Marlins in two exhibition games on July 21 and 22 at Truist Park. It will be the Braves' only chances to face another team before opening day July 24 in New York.

“It’ll be fun,” second baseball Ozzie Albies said. “It’ll be great. We need it.”

-- Albies addressed reporters for the first time since camp opened. He said he’s excited to be back at Truist Park preparing for the season and has been taking the health and safety protocols seriously. On that note, Albies mentioned leg kicks and fake high fives as new ways to celebrate on the field. He added: “You can scream at each other as loud as you want.”

-- Snitker hasn’t ruled out first baseman Freddie Freeman, who tested positive last week, for opening day. Freeman can return after he tests negative twice 24 hours apart and if he’s at least 72 hours clear of a fever.

- Mike Soroka, Josh Tomlin and Luke Jackson are among the players who will pitch in the upcoming intrasquad game on Monday. Soroka and Tomlin will start and go four innings each. The Braves will also bring over some pitchers from the secondary camp in Gwinnett, Snitker said. The game will be six innings.

-- If left-hander Cole Hamels isn’t ready for the season’s beginning, Tomlin and Kyle Wright could factor into the Braves’ immediate rotation plans. The Braves have Soroka, Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz inked into their rotation. Sean Newcomb, despite allowing two homers Thursday, drew praise from Snitker and should be in the opening rotation.

Tomlin and Wright can cover innings as starters or relievers. The Braves are already down starting depth with Felix Hernandez opting out and Hamels’ status in limbo. If Hamels isn’t ready, it might indeed shift Tomlin or Wright into a starting role.

The Braves plan to piggyback starters early, meaning a starter might only log three innings in his first outing. Regardless if Tomlin and/or Wright start, they’ll need to be stretched out. The Braves need both to cover innings, especially at the beginning.

-- Slugging third baseman Austin Riley has picked up where he left off in spring, according to Snitker.

“He’s looked good,” Snitker said. “His batting practices (have been good). I loved where he was in spring training. I loved the takes as much as anything. He’s had a couple really nice takes here. These guys have faced some pretty good pitching here in these first two days of intrasquads. I like where he’s at.”

When asked about the third-base situation with Riley and Johan Camargo, Snitker said the Braves are in “pretty good shape” with the two. “I don’t know how we’re going to use them. We’ll get to that when we start the games.”

The Braves have options with Riley, who can play third base, first base and left field. He could also serve as the designated hitter.

-- Snitker didn’t know if left-hander Will Smith has been throwing while away from camp. Smith tested positive for COVID-19 last week. He’s asymptomatic.

“When he gets here, we’ll see where he’s at when he gets on the mound for the first time,” Snitker said.

-- Young right-hander Touki Toussaint was among the Braves to test positive for COVID-19. He was asymptomatic, but the result has kept him out of camp. From an on-field standpoint, it derailed Toussaint’s chance at making the initial roster. He’s one of several younger pitchers who could factor into the Braves’ new plans, which include piggybacking pitchers – a strategy that benefits from a larger quantity.

“I thought he had a great spring training,” Snitker said. “I loved where he was. I hated spring training (ended) for a lot of these young guys. I thought they all – they’re starting to mature, figure things out, where they were physically and mentally. ... It’s a shame we had to stop these guys from where they were and how they were feeling. I’m sure Touki has kept himself in good shape, but again, until we get him in camp and see him, you just don’t know.”

-- MLB and the MLBPA released the latest testing results Friday morning. Combining intake and monitoring testing, the total number of positive tests thus far is 83, which is 0.7% of the 11,149 samples taken since intake screening began on June 27. Seventy-one of the 83 positives were players, while the other 12 were staff.

Twenty-eight of the 30 teams had an individual test positive in the intake screening or monitoring testing, according to MLB.

-- Giants catcher Buster Posey became the 11th player to decide against playing this season on Friday. He and his wife Kristin are adopting identical twin girls who were born prematurely. Posey had missed camp in recent days while contemplating his decision.

Posey, a South Georgia native, is the latest accomplished veteran to decide against playing. The Braves have had two -- Hernandez, whose agent cited concerns around the coronavirus, and outfielder Nick Markakis, who cited a plethora of reasons, including empty stadiums, health protocols interfering with his preparation and a desire to spend time with his family.

Posey, 33, is a six-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion. The Leesburg native was the 2012 National League MVP.