Braves pitching depth beginning to flex its muscles

MLB: MAY 19 Mariners at Braves

Coming into the season, one of the most attractive aspects of the Braves roster compared to previous years was the pitching depth. From the rotation to the bullpen, this is a team with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to arms that can contribute at the major-league level, but that depth has quickly been put to the test following the news that Spencer Strider will miss the rest of the season with a torn UCL.

At first, Atlanta’s rotation wasn’t quite living up to expectations. Allan Winans got the first start in Strider’s place and was mauled by the New York Mets. The Braves top prospects — AJ Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep — also struggled in their first couple of minor-league appearances, and Huascar Ynoa looks like a shell of the pitcher he once was before undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of 2022.

There were more questions than answers a couple of weeks ago, but a few recent developments should have Braves fans feeling much more confident.

Most notably, Reynaldo Lopez, who has transitioned from the bullpen to the rotation this year, has been Atlanta’s best arm to date. Through three starts, he’s allowed just one run over 18 innings (0.50 ERA) and is averaging a strikeout per inning. The Braves aren’t going to want to push Lopez too much this season, as he hasn’t thrown more than 66 innings since he was a starter back in 2019 with the White Sox. However, he looks like an entirely different pitcher than he was back then, and with Strider out, Atlanta needs him in the rotation.

The next promising development comes from a pair of younger arms. Darius Vines made his Braves debut last week and allowed just one run over 4.2 innings against an ultra-talented Astros lineup. It was so good, they gave him another chance to start on Sunday night against an even better Rangers lineup. Texas finally got to Vines with a four-run fourth inning, but the 25-year-old was a pitch or two away from back-to-back brilliant starts against two of the better offenses in the game. He’s certainly capable of giving the Braves innings at the back of the rotation if needed.

But it may not be needed, because Bryce Elder finally made his Braves debut on Monday, and he shoved against the Fish, going 6.2 innings and holding the Marlins scoreless. There was some activity on the basepaths all night, but just like last year, Elder showed a unique knack for getting out of jams unscathed. Of course, the opponent has to be taken into account. The Marlins feature one of the worst offenses in the game, but this is a 24-year-old that made the National League All-Star team a year ago. Nobody should be shocked if he doesn’t throw another pitch for the Gwinnett Stripers in 2024.

Beyond that, AJ Smith-Shawver is coming off his best performance in AAA as he ramps up his workload, tossing 4.2 innings of one-run ball. He’ll surely get some run at some point this season and don’t count out Ian Anderson. The former #3 overall pick is coming off Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready until the summer, but he’s still just 25 years old with a tremendous track record of success for somebody his age.

Nobody can replace Spencer Strider; he’s a one-of-one pitcher in the game of baseball. With that being said, Alex Anthopoulos went out and bolstered the team’s rotation depth this offseason for a reason. Injuries are inevitable over the course of 162 games, and the guys next up are plenty capable of giving the Braves offense a chance to win every time they toe the rubber.

Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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