Vilified Braves bullpen delivered in Denver

In the Braves’ two-game sweep, the bullpen combined to throw seven scoreless innings, with nine strikeouts against two walks. That’s a marked improvement from the first week of the season, when the bullpen was battered and beaten, enduring the brunt of criticism.

Even the previous series, the bullpen struggled to put away the lowly Marlins at home. Miami beat the Braves on Saturday with a homer off A.J. Minter. The Marlins hung around Sunday, forcing the home team to win on a walk-off.

Colorado was a different story. Regarded as the hardest place to pitch, Denver was anything but difficult for Braves relievers. In the opening game, the Braves saw a seven-run lead dwindle to 7-6. The relief corps – Luke Jackson, Jonny Venters, Chad Sobotka and Minter – held serve and the Braves won 8-6.

After six dazzling innings from Max Fried, the bullpen replicated its performance Tuesday. Jackson, Sobotka and Jesse Biddle allowed one hit over the final three frames. Jackson, who’s tossed five consecutive scoreless outings since he was pummeled on opening day, ran into two-on trouble but escaped.

“No lead is an easy lead here,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Luke came in and got in a little bit of trouble but got out. Sobotka was good again. It was good to see Jesse back out there throwing the ball over.”

Jackson and Sobotka providing reliable innings would be a coup, however long they maintain the performance. The Braves bullpen has already been worked heavily. They have a plethora of prospects who will be worked in and out of roles, but they’ve lacked solutions in the middle innings thus far.

These Rockies won’t be confused with the ’27 Yankees, now off to their second-worst start in franchise history at 3-9. But the Braves’ results were promising nonetheless.

“You never feel comfortable here, so what they’ve been doing is pretty spectacular,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “I thought Sobotka, that inning he had set the tone, put the dagger in the heart there. To go through 2-3-4 like he did was special. I think that won us the game.”

Sobotka, in particular, remains intriguing. He emerged out of nowhere last September and made the Braves’ postseason roster. He’s a towering presence on the mound who throws high-90s. The Braves are bullish on the righty, hoping later in the season to perhaps work him into the later innings.

That would require Sobotka to maintain a low walk rate and keep the ball in the yard. Outside the four-run blip April 4, Sobotka has thrown five scoreless appearances this season.

“Both have thrown it really well,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “Sobotka, it comes out hot, man. His breaking ball out here sings better than it does at home. I think he’s feeling good. He just needs to turn it loose, fire it in there. He has the stuff that can really play up on guys.”

Flowers spoke equally well about Jackson, who surprised some when he made the opening-day roster. Jackson, a former first-round pick, is out of options. But since the Phillies beatdown, he’s shown reason for optimism.

“Luke, the slider is really working for him right now,” Flowers said. “The fastball command is really good, too, which is something you can usually rely on, but these last few outings he’s done a great job commanding that fastball. That’s what’s going to make his slider that much better.”

Wednesday’s Braves-Rockies finale was postponed because of inclement weather. The Braves open a seven-game homestand against the Mets and Diamondbacks on Thursday.