March 12, 2021 –
BY KEVIN MCALPIN
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – It may sound like a cliché, but success breeds confidence. And there are more than a few players in the Braves clubhouse that would agree with that sentiment. Take AJ Minter for example. In 2019, Minter appeared in just 36 games out of the Braves bullpen, posting a 7.06 ERA and spending half the season trying to get himself right at Triple-A. Fast forward to 2020, Minter was one of the most consistent and reliable arms Snit could call upon in late game situations, as he posted a microscopic 0.83 ERA in 22 relief appearances during the regular season, and coming up huge for the team in Game Five of the NLCS, striking out seven batters over three scoreless innings as an Opener. With key pieces to the 2020 Atlanta relief corps gone, Minter could once again be called upon to put out some big time fires for the Braves in high leverage situations.
So, what changed for Minter a year ago? Well, for one, he took a couple miles per hour off his cutter. That allowed him to see more late movement on the pitch, especially inside to righties. For young pitchers, it’s only natural to have the desire to throw 100mph and strike everyone out every time you get into a game. But making those small adjustments can pay dividends, and they did just that for the 27 year old southpaw. And even though guys like Mark Melancon (Padres), Darren O’Day (Yankees) and Shane Greene (still a free agent) are gone from the Braves bullpen from 2020, Minter still believes this unit is as strong, or stronger than ever. “It was a special group last year. That being said, we have a special group this year. We’re going to need guys to step up this year, including myself” Minter said on Thursday. “I think we’re sitting perfectly fine where we’re at right now, we’re excited for the challenge” he added. As of now, it appears as though Minter, Matzek and Smith are the three main locks from the left side this season. If the club decides to go with a fourth lefty, and a lot of that decision will be based on the construction of the bench, Sean Newcomb could also be an option there as well. But for now, it appears as though Newcomb is likely destined to start out the year at the Alternate Site in Gwinnett.
Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet