With Mike Soroka seemingly close to a return, the Braves opted to begin the season with a four-man rotation of Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Ian Anderson, and Drew Smyly. They sent both Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright back to the alternate training site, but they did keep Huascar Ynoa up as an option to open in potential “bullpen games,’ which he did splendidly a couple of days ago, tossing five scoreless innings with five strikeouts.
Unfortunately, Soroka had a setback this week. Following the Braves sweep of the Nationals in Wednesday’s doubleheader, the 23-year-old experienced shoulder inflammation and will be shut down for two weeks. Assuming he can resume throwing at that point, it is still not likely that Soroka returns to the mound before mid-May, and it could be much later than that. The Braves could continue to stroll out openers every fifth day and let the bullpen take over from there, but that would put a strain on their already thin relief core. Plus, it’s not necessary. Atlanta has many options that could fill the fifth spot in the rotation, beginning with Huascar Ynoa.
As Clint talked about yesterday, Ynoa has the stuff to become the Braves fifth starter permanently. Hopefully, Soroka comes back sooner rather than later, but Ynoa showed on Wednesday that he is more than capable of holding it down until Soroka is 100% healthy. From Clint’s piece:
I know it’s just one start. And despite showing flashes of brilliance during camp this spring, Ynoa’s 7.79 ERA in 17.1 innings doesn’t necessarily scream rotation material. But he was in complete control on Tuesday versus Washington, with just a single and a double as his pair of blemishes, to go along with five strikeouts and one walk through five innings. About as good as anyone really could have expected, Ynoa went toe to toe with a dangerous Nationals offense, and even with Atlanta struggling to get anything going against his counterpart, Stephen Strasburg (6 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 8 K), the Dominican righty kept pounding the strike zone with his filthy fastball-slider combination. Ynoa didn’t do enough to earn the win, but now in his seventh professional season, it appears he’s finally peaking at just the right moment.
Of all the Braves options to fill in for Soroka, Ynoa undoubtedly has the best swing and miss stuff, and he seems to be figuring things out at the big league level. Instead of trying to hit triple-digits on the radar gun, he’s now more comfortable sitting in the 95-97 range, giving him better control, and his slider was straight filth against the Nationals. Still just 22-years-old, the upside is incredible with Ynoa, but it has only been one outing, and several others are deserving of opportunities if he slips up.
After an excellent Spring Training and the way Bryse Wilson pitched against the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLCS last year, I thought he was a shoo-in to begin the season on the major league roster. The 23-year-old has looked much more mature on the mound recently, pitching to contact and avoiding walks. There’s also not much more he can learn from sitting at the team’s alternate training site. After Ynoa’s stellar performance against the Nationals, it’s understandable for him to have the upper hand, but if he slips up, it won’t be long before the Braves turn to Wilson.
Of all the potential options, there is none more frustrating than Wright. For his entire career, it has been one step forward and two steps back. Nothing exemplifies that more than his experience in the playoffs last year. After tossing six shutout innings against the Marlins to wrap up the NLDS for the Braves, he imploded in Game 3 against the Dodgers, failing to get out of the first inning.
Still, the expectations for Wright entering Spring Training were high. Outside of that forgetful outing against Los Angeles to end the season, he was rolling going into the playoffs. But his Spring Training performance looked a lot like what we’ve seen from Wright his entire career — fantastic stuff with little control, resulting in mixed results. There’s no questioning his talent; this is a former 5th overall pick we’re talking about. But to this point, there has been absolutely no consistency. In an NL East race that is expected to be extremely tight, the Braves can’t afford to keep sending him out there if he can’t harness his control.
I’m not sure the Braves even consider Toussaint a starter at this point, and if they do, he’s pretty far back in line. With that being said, the upside he possesses is undeniable. His fastball/curveball combination is as nasty as any. Add in a very good split-finger and a slider, and Toussaint has an excellent four-pitch mix. Unfortunately, like Wright, walks and command issues have doomed Toussaint early in his career. I would probably rather see him come out of the bullpen at this point, but he’s a starting option if the Braves get desperate, and they might want to give him one last shot before making him a full-time reliever.