HOUSTON — The season is over for veteran starter Charlie Morton, but the World Series continues without him. Now, for the Braves’ bullpen and manager Brian Snitker, the real work begins.
How the Braves’ skipper handles his relievers’ workload — and how they respond to what he’s asking of them — during the remainder of the World Series after Tuesday’s 6-2 win in Game 1 could determine his club’s fate.
“You’re just running on adrenaline,” said reliever A.J. Minter, who threw 2 2/3 innings and a career-high 43 pitches after Morton was removed from the game. “This is the postseason and what you live for. You think you are going to be sore for throwing so much, but your arm feels fresh every day.”
Snitker has asked a lot of his bullpen this postseason. Braves relievers entered the World Series having accounted for 49.4 percent (43/87) of the team’s innings in the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series. Minter, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith accounted for roughly 55 percent of the Braves’ bullpen innings in the NLCS.
In addition to Minter, in Game 1 on Tuesday, the Braves also received 1 2/3 scoreless innings from Luke Jackson, 1 1/3 innings from Matzek and one inning from Smith.
“We went to [Minter] earlier than we normally would, but like I said earlier today, you do things differently here in this arena,” Snitker said. “A.J. has been so good this postseason. Not just him, all of the bullpen.”
When Matzek took the mound Tuesday, he became the fifth pitcher in AL/NL history to appear in 10 of a team’s first 11 postseason games, following Brandon Morrow (2017, Dodgers), Wade Davis and Greg Holland (‘14, Royals) and Brian Fuentes (‘07, Rockies).
Morrow is the only one that went on to pitch in 11 of a team’s first 12 postseason games, but that streak ended abruptly. In his 12th appearance in 13 postseason games, Morrow gave up four hits and four runs, including two home runs, as well as unleashing a wild pitch in a six-pitch performance in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the World Series. It’s difficult to know how much is too much to ask, but the end, when it arrives, can arrive quickly and with dire consequences.
Here’s what it all means going forward: Max Fried will start Game 2 on Wednesday, and the more innings he can pitch, the better. A long start is no longer a luxury. A short start is the worst-case scenario. Ian Anderson is on track to start Game 3 at Truist Park in Atlanta with a bullpen game likely for Game 4. Kyle Wright, who was added to the roster before Game 1, seemed like a long shot to start Game 4, but circumstances might have changed.
Wright could still be on a short leash if he does get the start. He hasn’t faced Major League hitters since allowing five runs in two innings against the Mets on June 23. The club could use Drew Smyly for the bulk of the innings in Game 4, perhaps as a starter or piggybacking onto whoever opens the game.
It’s worth noting that the Braves are still discussing if they are going to replace Morton with a starter or a reliever. Minter could be an option to open Game 4.
Nobody is even thinking about a potential Game 5, but without Morton, that would now need to be covered as well.
“I think going forward, we’re going to be just fine,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “We’ve had these bullpen games during the year. I think the day off after [Wednesday] is going to be very beneficial, whereas last year, it was seven days in a row when we did go through a little bullpen game in Game 3, so it kind of ate us up a little different.”