While the Atlanta Braves continue to piece together a starting rotation that has been riddled with injuries, they have been able to keep their head above water through a difficult part of the schedule. Jared Shuster has pitched well in two starts since rejoining the rotation and another big name could be close to returning as well.
Michael Soroka made his eighth start for Gwinnett Tuesday night where he allowed just two hits and one run over six innings. Braves president Alex Anthopoulos was in attendance for the start and told Brian Snitker that Soroka looked good after his outing. Soroka threw a season-high 96 pitches Tuesday and Snitker said that is key when talking about his potential return to the majors.
“I think one of the things he did last night was he got extended with his pitches,” Snitker said of Soroka. “He’s going to need to be able to come up here and be able to work in and throw at least 100 pitches when he gets here. I think he had 96 last night if I’m not mistaken. So covering innings is the big thing. Stuff’s getting better and it’s all headed in the right direction really. I think when and if we need him, he’ll be ready.”
While no one is willing to put a timeline on Soroka’s return, his elevated pitch count does make it seem like we are getting closer. Atlanta is currently in a stretch of 13-straight games without an off day. It is still unclear as to who will start Thursday’s series opener against Philadelphia (more on that below). The Braves have off days coming up on June 1 and June 5 before starting another 13-game stretch without a break which would provide an opportunity to get him in the mix, if he isn’t already there.
Bryce Elder maturation into a reliable starter
It is easy to look at the Braves’ current rotation situation and wonder where they might be without Bryce Elder. Elder of course was sent down to Gwinnett around the midway point of the spring as the team focused on Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd for the fifth starter spot. Elder started Opening Day for Gwinnett, but was quickly moved to the major league rotation as Shuster struggled. He will make his 10th start of the season for Atlanta Wednesday and enters the game with a 2.06 ERA and a 3.34 FIP in 52 1/3 innings.
“Just the innings he’s covered, how efficiently he’s done it, and everything,” Snitker said of Elder. “He’s a guy that hasn’t taxed our bullpen, which is really big and has been so consistent and solid, it’s been really good. It’s just really good to see his growth and maturity and what he’s done.”
He’s more consistent, more confident, trusts his stuff better,” Snitker added. “That whole thing with maturity and the time he spent in the minor leagues is invaluable.”
Options for Thursday’s starter
Snitker declined to discuss their pitching plan for Thursday’s series opener against the Phillies, instead deferring it until after the game. Rookie left-hander Dylan Dodd would be an option and would be on regular rest. A bullpen game seems less likely given that they still have eight more games to go before an off day.
If it is Dodd, then it might be interesting to see who is the odd man out in the bullpen. Major League rules now dictate that teams can carry a maximum of 13 pitchers on their active roster. The Braves currently have four starters and nine relievers. Per Roster Resource, the only two relievers on the active roster with options are A.J. Minter and Nick Anderson.
It is possible that there is a move to the injured list to be made or the time might have finally ran out on Michael Tonkin. Tonkin made the Opening Day roster and allowed just four earned runs over his first 19 innings. He has allowed 11 hits and six earned runs over his last three appearances (7 1/3 innings).