A.J. Minter throws in the bullpen earlier this spring. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

A.J. Minter looms as wild card in Braves bullpen

A.J. Minter was the best his manager had seen him Saturday night.

The southpaw, making his third appearance since returning from Triple-A, tossed a scoreless frame against the Phillies. He struck out a pair and induced a comebacker to record a perfect outing.

“I’ve felt good ever since spring training,” Minter said. “Obviously the car wreck happened and I got shut down (tarnishing my spring), but coming back in the first month I felt good. These hitters just made an adjustment on me. They were sitting inside, glove-side. So just going to Triple-A and working on the changeup, keep (hitters) honest, work on the left side of the plate better. The stuff has been there. I felt good last night. It’s something I can build off of.”

After fanning Andrew Knapp to begin the seventh, Minter retired Jean Segura on a grounder to himself. He won a six-pitch battle with Bryce Harper, striking him out with a 97-mph heater to end the inning.

“[That] was the best I’d seen him since spring,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He looked like his old self. The velocity ticked up, cutter was good. It’s the best he’s looked since we started in February.”

Minter struggled mightily before his demotion. His inability to find the strike zone cost him not only the closing job but a spot on the roster. Across nine games in Triple-A, he struck out 15 and walked only two. Eight of those appearances were scoreless.

Minter focused on his changeup and attacking the left side of the plate while in the minors. He also pitched a pair of two-inning outings, his first time doing so.

“Hopefully, I can do that here,” Help out the bullpen. It just makes you that much more valuable.”

Minter could eventually work his way back into the closer mix. The door is certainly open, with Luke Jackson having blown his sixth save Saturday and the team lacking an obvious ninth-inning alternative. If Minter rebounds and again becomes a vital piece of the bullpen, he can look back on his demotion as a turning point.

“Of course I didn’t want to get sent down,” he said. “It was a reality check. Being in the big leagues, these are the best of the best. If you aren’t performing, unfortunately that’s what happens sometimes. I definitely needed it. Go down there, get away from high-leverage situations. Just focus on what I need to focus on and not worry about the results. That was the place to do it. So it helped.”

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