What will dictate A.J. Smith-Shawver’s future role with the Braves?

MLB: JUN 09 Nationals at Braves

The Braves continually produce young talent, and A.J. Smith-Shawver seems to be the next one up.

The 20-year-old became the youngest Braves starting pitcher to earn a win in 33 years in an 8-3 win over Colorado on Thursday. The hard-throwing righty allowed three runs on six hits and one walk over 5.2 innings, fanning six and earning his first major league win in his second start.

Moreover, he threw 99 pitches, 64 for strikes, which marks a career-high. He’d only thrown 88 pitches beforehand, and the 5.2 innings were also a career-high across any of his 31 professional appearances.

Smith-Shawver has now accumulated a 2.03 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP across 13.1 innings. He was visibly more confident in his second start compared to his first and has earned a spot in the Braves rotation for the time being, but what will dictate his role in the future?

While Max Fried and Kyle Wright are sidelined with their respective injuries, they are on track to return at some point. If AJ Smith-Shawver continues to produce, which seems to be the trajectory, he’ll likely solidify his place as a starter. However, what happens if/when Fried and Wright return?

We recently received great news on the pair. Wright has officially been cleared to start throwing again, which is a significant step considering he hadn’t been able to even pick up a ball until this point. Moreover, Fried has been cleared to start throwing off the mound again.

Obviously, the Braves are rightfully taking things cautiously with them, but this is very encouraging news. Fried could return following the All-Star break in the middle of July, so it’s possible we see a rehab start in the coming weeks.

Wright, on the other hand, is further behind. Given the nature of his shoulder injury, the Braves aren’t taking any chances with him reaggravating it; however, a return in August seems to be on the table, providing there are no setbacks.

So, in an ideal world, both pitchers return to the rotation by September — what happens to A.J. Smith-Shawver?

On the one hand, if the kid is dealing, how do you take him out of the rotation? But if you keep him, who leaves? Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton, Kyle Wright, and Bryce Elder is a potent group already and doesn’t leave much room for anyone else.

That’s not even considering Michael Soroka refining his stuff in Gwinnett. Although it’s a difficult situation to have, it’s a good problem. There’s always the possibility that Wright doesn’t return this season or returns and looks nothing like the guy from 2022. And if A.J. Smith-Shawver continues to shove, he’ll have a place in the rotation, but a temporary move back to the bullpen shouldn’t be ruled out if Wright and Fried return to form.

At some point, Brian Snitker and Alex Anthopoulos have to have a conversation and pick the best five starters, regardless of track record. That’s down the road, but it’s worth monitoring.

David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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