Braves' Snitker ponders 6th starter as he studies rotation

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Atlanta Braves pitchers Alex Jackson, left, Jasseel De La Cruz, center, and Kyle Muller warm up during spring training at the CoolToday Park, Monday, March 14, 2022, in North Port, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker said Monday he's considering all options, including a six-man rotation or an opener, as he looks for answers in his starting rotation.

The Braves, who open the season on April 7 at home against Cincinnati, are scheduled to play 14 consecutive days before their first off day. Snitker said he may add a sixth starter during that stretch. He's evaluating a group of five pitchers competing for the final two spots in the rotation.

“We’re going to end up using all these guys,” Snitker said. “We’re going to need them all.”

He said using a reliever from the team’s deep bullpen as an opener “is always a possibility. We have some candidates to do that in the right situations also. We showed last year we’re probably going to use that in getting through the whole thing.”

The starting rotation is the only area left untouched in a recent flurry of roster moves by general manager Alex Anthopoulos, including the trade for first baseman Matt Olson.

Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson are established atop the rotation, though Morton is returning from a broken leg suffered in Game 1 of Atlanta’s World Series win over Houston. Morton is expected to be ready for the start of the season.

Mike Soroka, the opening day starter in 2020 before suffering two tears of his right Achilles tendon, is trying to complete a difficult comeback and be available later in the season.

Anthopoulous has been busy, trading for Olson after failing to re-sign Freddie Freeman, signing outfielders Eddie Rosario and Alex Dickerson, and adding two established relievers, closer Kenley Jansen and Collin McHugh.

Anthopoulos could still make a late addition to the rotation. For now, Snitker is looking for starters to emerge from a group of five contenders: Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson.

Toussaint and Davidson each pitched two innings in Monday's 5-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Toussaint started and allowed one run on four hits.

“Overall, he was good,” Snitker said of Toussaint. “His stuff was good. He’s just got to keep fighting and working with it and, you know, when he gets it right and he gets it going, he can do a really good job.”

Davidson struck out the side in the fourth before allowing two runs on four hits in the fifth.

Toussaint continues to search for the consistency that has been elusive in his career. He said the blame is mechanics.

“Some things aren’t timed up all the time,” Toussaint said Monday. “I worked on some things this offseason and timed myself up more and more.”

Ynoa's breakout showing in the first half of last season, when he was 4-2 with a 3.02 ERA in April and May, showed his potential to stick in the rotation. But the 23-year-old Ynoa wasn't the same in his return after breaking his right (throwing) hand while punching the dugout bench on May 16. He finished 4-6 with a 4.05 ERA.

“I feel good,” Ynoa said through Braves translator Franco Garcia. “All I’m thinking about is just doing my best and giving my best effort and trying to just get one of those two spots.”

When spring training was delayed by the lockout, leaving less time at the Braves camp to prepare for the season, Ynoa said he stayed on schedule with his work in his native Dominican Republic.

“The whole time I was continuing to work out and make adjustments in the Dominican,” Ynoa said.

The 6-foot-7 Muller, a left-hander, provided an encouraging spring debut when he allowed one hit in two scoreless innings in Sunday's 5-1 win over Philadelphia.

“I love it,” said Muller of the rotation competition. “I think that’s kind of what drives everybody in this organization to get better. There are so many really, really talented good arms.”


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