“It’s just been coming out so much better,” Winkler said. “My fastball is there again. It’s been jumping out of my hand. I just feel confident on the mound again. That’s huge for me.”
Winkler was important for the Braves during their surprising division-title run a year ago, when he earned a 3.43 ERA in 69 games. His 23 holds were a team-best.
But after a career-best August, Winkler appeared burned out in September. His struggles eliminated him as an option on the postseason roster. That fate motivated him through the offseason, though it didn’t help him in the spring.
» More: Newcomb optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett
Winkler allowed five runs on nine hits in 5-1/3 innings. He also was victim to having an option remaining, letting the Braves store him in Triple-A while they had length on the initial roster.
“They said they needed some long relievers,” Winkler said. “They had younger guys throwing, which is fine. I knew I had options and the bullpen’s a revolving door. I’m not going to lie, it hurt not to be here. I realized there was a reason for it, I fixed some things, and now I think I’m better than I was before.”
Manager Brian Snitker said reports on Winkler have been encouraging. Any form similar to last season would be a boon for a bullpen that’s starting to figure it out.
“It made me hungry again just to go down there,” Winkler said. “You get kind of complacent and think your job is safe when it wasn’t. So just to come back up here, it gives you a little bit of an edge, some confidence. So that’s going to help me going through the rest of the season.”