Jacob Webb was the little-known minor leaguer who unexpectedly became an important part of the Braves’ bullpen in 2019. Then came a right elbow impingement that required surgery and unceremoniously ended his season.
And while the Braves have heavily renovated their bullpen since Webb last pitched, they still consider him an integral part of the mix. He’s one of many competing for a role this spring.
“I want to show I’m healthy and make sure I’m feeling good,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure (the elbow) is cooperating again.”
Webb’s injury was a gut punch that spoiled his first major-league season. The right-hander had a 1.39 ERA with 28 strikeouts against 12 walks in 32-1/3 innings (36 games) before getting hurt, emerging as a surprise contributor.
Manager Brian Snitker grew to trust Webb in higher leverage situations. In a constantly churned bullpen marked by ups-and-downs, Webb became a stable presence. It was far from expected for a then-25-year-old who’d been overlooked in the Braves’ crammed pitching stash.
Webb was placed on the 10-day injured list July 13. He began a rehab assignment July 31 but struggled mightily in 10 appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett. He was shut down and underwent arthroscopic surgery on the elbow.
“It’s a little frustrating but you have to take it when it comes,” Webb said. “All you can do is focus on what you can do.”
Snitker confirmed that Webb has been throwing without restrictions at spring training. Pitchers and catchers reported to camp Wednesday.
“He’s throwing good,” Snitker said. “I saw him throw a bullpen the other day. He looks good. You wouldn’t know we shut him down in the middle of the year. At this point, he’s really, really encouraging right now.”
Webb spent the offseason building his strength back up, which he considered a resounding success. He feels confident with his elbow and possible role on the team as a middle reliever. But the bullpen he’ll join doesn’t look the same as the one he left.
The Braves re-did their relief group at the trade deadline, bringing in Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin. Veteran Darren O’Day returned from a lengthy stint on the IL to join the team in its final stretch run. The Braves re-signed Martin and O’Day, retained Melancon and Greene, and signed coveted free-agent Will Smith to make their bullpen – they hope – a team strength.
Melancon, Greene, Smith and O’Day have been All-Stars, giving Webb the chance to learn from pitchers who’ve maximized their careers.
“It’s definitely a cool thing to have some guys who have some experience at those kind of levels,” Webb said. “You just have to listen, man. Listening is a big thing. You have to understand what they’re trying to tell you and how you can use it to your advantage. … It’s fun to be around these guys and learn from the veteran guys and some of the young guys too. See what they do, how they go about their business.”
Despite Snitker’s praises, Webb isn’t guaranteed a spot on the opening-day roster. Someone is going to be pinched by the numbers game. Webb also has two options remaining.
The Braves have six relievers locked in, barring an unexpected development: Melancon, Greene, Smith, O’Day, Martin and Luke Jackson. They’ll also employ a long reliever, likely the recently re-signed Josh Tomlin.
That would leave one additional spot in an eight-man bullpen. The Braves’ first seven features only one lefty, so they could favor a southpaw – Grant Dayton, A.J. Minter or Philip Pfeifer – and have Webb start the season at Triple-A. Regardless, Webb feels he’ll play an important role as the Braves pursue their third consecutive postseason berth.
“I think so, yes,” he said. “I’d like to break with the team, but if it doesn’t happen I’m not going to get down. I’m going to focus on what I have to do to get back up there if that’s the case.”
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