Split squad action in Spring Training — now with Extra Exhibitions!! was on tap for the Braves on Wednesday, as they hosted Team Puerto Rico in North Port with Max Fried and most of the lineup regulars, while the B-team headed out to Dunedin to tangle with the Jays.
Let’s start with the more official, Grapefruit League game, which the Braves lost to the Jays, 3-1. This game went by pretty quickly, as the pitching and defense mostly dominated. Spencer Strider was the starter for the Braves in this one, and once again posted a near-40 percent strikeout rate. The only blow he allowed was a homer to Cavan Biggio, which came on a 2-0 outside fastball and honestly, is hard to really fault anyone for. Biggio put a great swing on a non-meaty pitch in a meaty count and drilled it to right center for a solo shot. That was all Strider gave up — in 3 1⁄3 innings, the only other baserunners to reach off him were a couple of roller singles.
Meanwhile, the Braves didn’t do much offensively in this game. They went three up, three down in most innings against Kevin Gausman and some Jays relievers. In the second, Sam Hilliard pulled a grounder through a non-shifted right side and moved to second on a wild pitch, but was later picked off second base by Gausman. There was another single later in the inning, an infield roller that Gausman grabbed when he should’ve let it go foul, but the Braves didn’t get another baserunner until there were two outs in the seventh. That hit, again, came courtesy of Hilliard, who obliterated a pitch into center for a moonshot game-tying homer. After Hilliard’s homer, the Braves didn’t get another baserunner until there were two outs in the ninth.
Trey Riley wrapped up the fourth after Strider departed, and then Bryce Elder took over, throwing three total innings. In the seventh, soon after Hilliard’s homer, Elder issued a two-out walk, and then threw a super-grooved 3-1 89 four-seamer to George Springer, who crushed it for a two-run homer. Elder finished his day with a 3/1 K/BB ratio and that homer in three innings of work. Ty Tice wrapped up the pitching slate for Atlanta with a scoreless inning.
In the ninth, after two were out, the Braves put the tying runs in scoring position, as Landon Stephens walked and Cody Milligan knocked a double into center. That left it all up to Greyson Jenista, who got ahead 2-0, but eventually went down swinging on a curveball headed towards his shoetops.
The game against Puerto Rico was far more one-sided, as the Braves destroyed some pretty poor-caliber pitching. Max Fried had no issues with a lineup that featured Eddie Rosario and some strong bats, tossing four innings of zero-walk, five-strikeout ball that were nearly spotless, but for a couple of infield singles to short in the second. (For those curious, per the radio call, Vaughn Grissom did not have a chance on either ball, so these apparently weren’t infield singles of the botched defense variety.) The Puerto Rico arms, though, had so many problems with Atlanta’s bats.
Dereck Rodriguez, who struggled in the minors and majors for the Twins last year, got lit up. Ozzie Albies started the bottom of the first with a bloop single, and scored on Sean Murphy’s two-out double. The Braves then strung together a three-run frame in the second, with a double, two walks, three singles, and a run-scoring double play hit into by Albies all transpiring. Rodriguez didn’t make it out of the inning, forcing Jose Espada, a 26-year-old minor leaguer that hasn’t made it to Double-A yet, into the game. A Michael Harris II double, an error, and another run-scoring double play gave the Braves another run. Jonathan Bermudez, possessor of horrible minor league numbers, was the next guy to get shelled by the Atlanta attack, allowing two doubles, a single, and then yet another run-scoring double play. He got the last out of his first inning on something that Gameday simply reads as, “Sean Murphy out at 1st, pitcher Jonathan Bermudez.” Who knows. Maybe Murphy’s a nice guy and felt bad.
Yet another Harris double, this time off Anthony Maldonado, led to a sac fly in the sixth. After that, a bunch of subs happened, but the offense didn’t stop. Ryan Casteel hit a two-run double in the seventh.
After Fried, the other Braves relievers also had no challenges facing the Puerto Rico lineup. Kirby Yates went 1-2-3 with two pop-outs. Jackson Stephens issued back-to-back two-out walks (yikes) but then got out of it. Michael Tonkin gave up a bloop single and then a liner single to Rosario, but again, got out of it. Connor Johnstone issued a two-out walk in a ninth inning that Gameday informs me featured two hitters batting out of order, but again, no runs for the Puerto Rican side. It was kind of a weird relief slate for the Braves, throwing five scoreless frames despite just a 5/3 K/BB ratio.
The Braves will visit the Rays tomorrow in a more “normal” Spring Training affair.