Braves Spring Training: Dark horse emerges in race for final spot in rotation

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The battle for the final spot in the rotation was expected to be one of the most competitive this Spring Training, but to this point, the Braves have seen anything but.

Michael Soroka entered camp with a hamstring injury, which has kept him from throwing off a mound. It doesn’t sound too serious, but he’s behind the eight-ball compared to the others. Given his injury history, I doubt the club will rush him back. It makes it very unlikely that he begins the year in Atlanta. His health should be the top priority.

The other two — Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder — have done little to separate themselves from the other.

Elder is coming off an excellent rookie campaign in which he went 2-4 with a 3.17 ERA in 10 outings (nine starts), including a six-hit shutout of the Nationals. His ceiling isn’t the highest, but he’s been nothing but rock solid ever since he was drafted in 2020. His Spring Training debut went as horribly as one could imagine. He allowed three base hits to the first three batters, then gave up a grand slam. It took more than 20 pitches for Elder to record an out, but he’s not concerned, and neither is Brian Snitker.

“You get three ground balls and [none of them] go to a guy,’’ Elder said, via Joey Johnston “Obviously, on paper, it looks horrible. I really didn’t think it was that bad. I mean, one bad pitch.’’

“They just found a hole or two, but he got out of trouble,’’ Braves manager Brian Snitker said, via Joey Johnston “It’s fine. I mean, it’s just like Hicks’ hit. That’s going to be the result. The single is going to come back into the game now [without extreme shifts].

“As long as Elder stays healthy and his stuff keeps doing what we know it can do, I’m not looking for him to set the world on fire. He just needs to be himself, do exactly what he came in and did last year. If he does that, he’s going to be very successful. Just stay ready. You never know when you’re going to need a guy like that.’’

Bryce Elder’s start was a forgetful one, but Ian Anderson’s start may have even been worse.

It’s the first glimpse we’ve got of him and his new offering since his demotion, and it left a lot to be desired. After posting a 5.40 ERA in the minor leagues, Anderson came back with mechanical changes along with a slider. Neither changed the result. Against the Twins, he surrendered a home run to the first batter he faced, walked two more in the inning, and then gave up another homer.

It wasn’t the start Braves Country imagined. Remember, this is a 24-year-old that owns an eye-popping 1.26 postseason ERA across eight starts. Since his debut in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he had accumulated a 3.25 ERA across 30 starts coming into last year. Last season is hopefully just an aberration, but concerns are only growing with each passing appearance.

Interestingly, the candidate making the most noise in the race for the final spot in the rotation is a dark horse — Kolby Allard. The Braves said they viewed him as a high-upside piece, but nobody really gave him a chance to grab ahold of the fifth spot; even still after a productive start against the Mets, he’s a longhsot. On Thursday, Allard tossed three quality innings with no hits, one walk, and three strikeouts on 39 pitches.

If Allard were to take that spot, something would’ve gone horribly wrong with Anderson and Elder. Hopefully, that isn’t the case, but he’s proving to be a quality depth piece at the least.

What’s important is taking Spring Training results with a grain of salt; they are rarely indicative of regular-season success. Players are working on certain facets of their game. The stats aren’t as important as the process. Anderson and Elder have just one appearance under their belts. I’ll wait a couple of more weeks before making conclusive judgements.

Photographer: Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire


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