One of the unsung heroes for the Atlanta Braves during this postseason run has been the performance of the team’s bullpen. That was the case again in Tuesday’s Game 1 victory where the bullpen had to cover the final 6 1/3 innings after Charlie Morton was lost to injury.
A.J. Minter was pressed into early duty in the third inning and turned in a great performance allowing three hits and one run over 2 2/3 innings. He struck out three while throwing a career-high 43 pitches.
“That was huge what A.J. pulled down,” Snitker said after the game. “He did it for us last year in the NLCS, but that tonight was really good. He was well rested and he pulled down some really big innings for us.”
“We went to him earlier than we normally would, but like I said earlier today, you do things differently here in this arena,” Snitker added. “That was huge tonight what he did, how he stretched the game to get us to those other guys.”
Minter has been a workhorse for the Braves this postseason. Including last night, he has made six appearances and has allowed five hits and one run over 10 innings. He has 14 strikeouts and just two walks. A lot of the focus has been on Tyler Matzek and rightfully so, but Minter has done an excellent job of soaking up innings when needed.
“It hurts losing Charlie. What he’s been to this team all year, everyone knows Charlie. His career, he’s a hero in the postseason. So it’s definitely a blow losing him Game 1,” Minter said of Morton’s injury. “But if you’ve been watching us all year, we’ve just been answering the bell and overcoming adversity all year.”
“We’re just going to treat it the same way, next guy up,” he added. “Coming in third inning, I just knew I was trying to cover as many innings as I possibly could. Wasn’t just trying to be efficient, not trying to overthink it.”
Minter got them off the ground but he wasn’t the only one to come up with a key performance. Luke Jackson struggled in his final two appearances in the NLCS. He allowed the game-tying home run to Cody Bellinger in Game 3 and then allowed a run and failed to retire a batter in the seventh inning of Game 6 before Matzek saved him by striking out the side.
Jackson replaced Minter in the sixth and allowed a one-out single to Kyle Tucker but nothing else. He retired the first two hitters he faced in the seventh including a strikeout of Jose Altuve on a nasty slider before giving way to Matzek.
“That was huge for Luke. That was huge for our bullpen,” Travis d’Arnaud said of Jackson’s outing. “I think it was on MLB Network, his numbers versus the Dodgers this year. I think that’s the team that just had his number. You’re going to go through a whole season, and one team is just going to have your number. No matter what you do, you’re going to try to mix up pitches, try to throw different pitches, maybe mix in a knuckleball, and they’ll still have your number. So for Jacks to come out, that’s big for him mentally, and that’s huge for our bullpen knowing that he’s still there.”
Atlanta’s bullpen has been a workhorse this postseason. They have posted a 3.44 ERA in 49 2/3 innings. They have given up just five home runs and have 60 strikeouts to go along with just 18 walks. Throw out the Game 5 loss in the NLCS where Chris Martin, Dylan Lee and Jacob Webb allowed six runs, including three homers, over the final 3 1/3 innings and those numbers look even better.
“Bullpen, we’re feeling confident,” Minter said. “I feel like it took us a while to get going, definitely. I feel like we struggled, including myself, the first half of the season. I got sent down to Triple-A, but I feel like we came together at the right time, and we’re clicking on all cylinders, and we’re feeling very confident right now in the bullpen.”
The bullpen becomes even more important with the loss of Morton. Atlanta’s starters have given them a buffer. For example, Houston’s bullpen has logged 57 innings. The Dodgers needed 58 1/3 innings from their relievers. As a group, the Braves will have to cover Morton’s innings should the series get to Game 5.
“Every single person in that bullpen has a huge heart, has huge fight,” d’Arnaud said of the bullpen. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but they’ve all got big nuts too, and there’s nothing more you want as a catcher is to know that everybody loves each other and everybody picks each other up and they’re not afraid of anyone.”
“I think going forward, I think we’re going to be just fine,” he added. “We’ve had these bullpen games during the year. I think the day off after tomorrow is going to be very beneficial, whereas last year it was seven days in a row when we did go through a little bullpen game in Game 3. So it kind of ate us up a little different.”
“It’s an honor working with these guys. They all fight. They all work hard every day, and they’re all ready to throw every day.”