Braves would be in big trouble without Bryce Elder

Young pitcher plugs hole in rotation
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Bryce Elder delivers to a New York Mets batter during the first inning at Truist Park, Tuesday, June 6, 2023, in Atlanta. Braves won 6-4. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Bryce Elder delivers to a New York Mets batter during the first inning at Truist Park, Tuesday, June 6, 2023, in Atlanta. Braves won 6-4. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

While waiting out a rain delay without any rain at Truist Park, I was thinking it should have been Bryce Elder Appreciation Day. It turns out the timing would have been bad because Elder didn’t have a great night against the Mets. Still, the Braves would be in serious trouble without Elder quickly developing into a good starter.

“Probably we don’t say enough about it, honestly, because if he hadn’t established himself to date, then there’s another hole you’re trying to plug,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Tuesday before the series opener against the Mets.

The Braves have too many of those on their pitching staff. Max Fried and Kyle Wright have been on the injured list for nearly five weeks and won’t be back for at least another month. The Braves have two veteran starters who I trust will stay good, Spencer Strider and Charlie Morton. Elder has made just 21 career starts but only three or four have been ineffective.

Even Tuesday’s outing wasn’t terrible for Elder, who came into the game as MLB’s ERA leader . The Mets tagged Elder for four runs, all in the third inning. Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso both hit two-run homers. Elder retired the next 10 batters in a row to make it through six innings and the Braves rallied to win 6-4.

Elder ended up with one bad inning on a so-so night instead of a meltdown that made the margin too big.

“You never want that, but to continue to throw it well and give us a chance I think is always a positive,” Elder said.

Elder saved the bullpen extra work by shaking off the bad inning. That’s key because the Mets have Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander lined up for the next two games. Elder was good enough to give the Braves (36-24) a chance to win. They did it and gained some breathing room against the Mets (30-31).

There was some trash talk in the opener, as you’d expect. Microphones picked up Mets slugger Alonso chirping at Elder after hitting his homer: “Throw it again! Please, throw it again!” Elder said he didn’t hear Alonso’s taunt and isn’t offended by it.

“If I hit one to the concourse I might holler, too,” Elder said.

Elder didn’t let that homer rattle him.

“He just kept pitching, throwing strikes,” Snitker said. “That’s huge when stuff like that happens and you don’t let it get away from you.”

It was a professional effort by Elder. It’s the latest evidence that he’s one of three reliable Braves starters behind Strider and Morton. That trio might be enough to keep getting by until Fried and Wright return, but the Braves need another reliable starter to really go on a run. We’ve seen what happens when they lean too much on their bullpen.

Maybe left-hander Jared Shuster is that guy. He’s posted a 3.68 ERA over his past five starts. But some underlying numbers suggest his results have been better than his performance. The Braves will ride Shuster for as long as they can, but the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are shaky so long as Fried and Wright are out.

That’s why I don’t understand why the latest phase of Michael Soroka’s MLB comeback lasted just two starts. Soroka’s results weren’t great, but who could reasonably expect that after he spent 2 ½ years away from the big leagues? Why bring Soroka up at all if he was going to get such a short leash?

“I think it was we called him up because he had a couple of good starts (in Triple-A) and we needed a starter,” Snitker said. “I don’t think anybody, when we called him up, thought we were going to close the door behind him. We were going to see what it looked like.”

OK, but there’s a lot of room between closing the door behind Soroka and shoving him out of it soon after he arrives. That’s something you expect from an organization that doesn’t need to be patient because it has a lot of options. The Braves aren’t that kind of team with Fried and Wright out.

The situation would be much worse without Elder’s emergence. He was demoted to Gwinnett after four starts last season, then got called up again in August and finished the season strong. Elder was sent down after getting roughed up during spring training this year. He got the call to the majors again when Fried was put on the IL in April.

Elder has stayed in the big leagues this time. Tuesday’s game ended his streak of allowing two or fewer runs at six games. Elder surrendered four runs on April 26 against Miami, but that was over 5 1/3 innings. Elder now has four straight starts of six innings or more.

It wasn’t a great night for Elder against the Mets, but it was good enough. He deserves some appreciation not just for that, but for how he’s helped hold together Atlanta’s patchwork rotation.