Tale of 2 veteran relievers: Boyer struggling, O’Flaherty impressing

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – After Blaine Boyer coughed up a lead and much more by giving up six runs and recording just one out in the sixth inning Thursday against the Yankees, fellow well-traveled veteran Eric O’Flaherty stopped the bleeding by getting the last two outs of the inning.

It was a microcosm of the surprising early spring for both pitchers, familiar former Braves trying to win spots in the opening-day bullpen.

Both signed minor league contracts with invitations to spring training, but Boyer was coming off consecutive quality seasons in a late-career resurgence, while O’Flaherty was coming off another elbow surgery after the left-hander’s injury-plagued difficult season in his return to the Braves in 2016.

So expectations were higher for Boyer, but results so far have been quite the opposite. Boyer, 35, has struggled to get outs in two of four games and allowed 10 runs (nine earned) in four innings (20.25 ERA) over four appearances. He was charged with five earned runs, five hits and a bases-loaded walk to Dustin Fowler on Friday.

Another runner scored after reaching on a throwing error by third-base prospect Austin Riley.

“(Boyer’s) velocity was good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It wasn’t like they were just hammering him all over the place either. Just some balls that were falling in front of the outfielders and we don’t make a play and kind of let the inning get out of hand. I don’t think the stuff was that bad, just the results weren’t very good. But overall, just run him back out there in a couple of days.”

Meanwhile, O’Flaherty has allowed just three hits, one run (1.93 ERA) and two walks with six strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. The run scored Friday when he came back to pitch the seventh inning and gave up a walk and a double that landed just beyond the outstretched glove of prospect Ronald Acuna when he made a difficult diving-catch attempt in right-center field.

“To me, he’s gotten a little better each time,” Snitker said of O’Flaherty, 32. “I thought he was a little better today than he was the last time, which was a little better than the time before. I thought he threw some good breaking balls today, his fastball is starting to get a little more life. I think we just kind of hang with him, stay with him. He feels good, so that’s a good thing just to kind of keep him out there, maybe he’s throwing healthy for the first time in a while.”

D'Arnaud update: Utility man Chase d'Arnaud missed his ninth consecutive game due to sickness. He was knocked out for nearly a week by the flu, then just as he began working out again and prepared to rejoin the Braves, he was diagnosed with bronchitis. Doctors told him to stay away from camp for at least another two days before he's reexamined.