Spring Training 2.0 is set to begin this week after three months off, and before you know it, the regular season will be here. That’s not a lot of time for players, especially pitchers, to stretch out, which means most — if not all — teams will ease their starters into the swing of these during the first few weeks of the regular season.
Alex Anthopoulos already said this is how the Braves plan to approach things, with starters limited to 2-4 innings in their first few outings. Luckily, Atlanta’s pitching depth is a significant strength of theirs, making this transition rather seamless. However, there are different ways they could go about this tag-team style of pitching. Let’s take a look.
Five-man rotation with other starting candidates as long relievers
As I talked about last week, the Braves will have an open competition for the fifth spot in their rotation, and there are multiple worthy candidates. If one of them stands out substantially in Spring Training 2.0, the Braves could decide to roll with a five-man rotation, but that doesn’t mean the others will be left off the roster.
This year’s shortened season will begin with 30-man rosters, which will be reduced to 28 men after two weeks and then to the regular 26 men two weeks after that. Most of those four extra roster spots will be used on pitching, allowing for extended Spring Training competitions to continue, and pitchers to stretch out and rest accordingly.
So let’s say Sean Newcomb stands out above the rest leading into the regular season. He may earn the final rotation spot, closing out a group that includes Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried, and Cole Hamels. However, I would still expect Kyle Wright, Felix Hernandez, and possibly Touki Toussaint to make the Opening Day roster. All of them can serve as long relievers with the opportunity to insert themselves into the rotation if they outperform Newcomb, or even someone else, in the first few weeks of the season. Because there are only sixty games, Brian Snitker will have to rely on the hot hand, as he would do in the playoffs.
This situation is not too different than the one mentioned above, but it is an option for teams like the Braves, who have seven or eight potential starting pitchers. Once again, this will ease the starters into the groove of things while holding an open competition for the final spot in the rotation. In this scenario, the Braves could have the same six starters for the first couple of rotations, or they might even feature seven, going with a matchup based approach.
Let’s say, Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, and Felix Hernandez all show out in Spring Training 2.0, much like they did in March before baseball came to a halt. The Braves would have a difficult decision to make regarding their starting rotation, but undoubtedly all three would make the roster.
As a result, Brian Snitker could throw out King Felix and Kyle Wright one week against a heavy right-handed lineup, while allowing Newcomb to serve in a long-relief role. And the following week, Newcomb could be a starter while King Felix and Kyle Wright serve as long relievers.
Of course, if one of the three struggles in Spring Training 2.0 as starters, it could be just a two-person competition. However, I expect the Braves to give their starting options as much time as possible to prove themselves before the rosters are trimmed to 26-men. That could be a whole month, or perhaps just a couple of weeks, depending on how the Braves look in the standings. I don’t envy the gut-wrenching decisions Brian Snitker and Alex Anthopoulos will have to make over the next two months, but the Braves are in a prime position to deal with the challenges ahead.