The Braves bullpen has already welcomed back one massive piece, as Pierce Johnson inked a two-year deal to stay with the team to kick off the offseason. The right-hander posted a minuscule 0.76 ERA to go along with a 12.2 K/9 in 24 appearances for the Braves after he was acquired at the trade deadline from the Rockies. He’s poised to be a set-up man beside A.J. Minter and potentially Tyler Matzek next season.
The 2021 postseason hero didn’t look like the same pitcher when he returned for the 2022 season. His velocity was down, leading to an ERA north of 5.00 before the Braves placed him on the Injured List with shoulder discomfort.
Matzek did return in July, and the results were much more encouraging from an ERA perspective. He posted a 3.00 ERA over his final 29 appearances, but his velocity remained a couple of ticks down, and the strikeout numbers that made him one of the most dominant lefty relievers in the game were severely diminished. Something still didn’t seem right, and just before the NLDS against the Phillies, he was shut down for the season, and it was later revealed he would need Tommy John surgery.
Despite Matzek mentioning several times throughout this season that he hoped to return for the playoffs, that was never a realistic proposition. However, he is under contract for 2024 and expected to be ready to roll for Spring Training.
It’s always difficult to predict what a pitcher will look like following such a lengthy absence, but it’s not uncommon for guys to come back even stronger from Tommy John surgery. Matzek’s overcome so much throughout his career, going from Indy Ball to postseason legend for the Braves. Hopefully, this is just another bump in the road, because Brian Snitker could desperately use another reliable left-handed reliever at the back-end of their bullpen. Getting Matzek back to his 2021 form could make the Braves relief core go from good to great without even making a significant addition in free agency.
Photographer: Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire