After a little over a month into the 2019 baseball season, all indications are that the performance of the Atlanta Braves bullpen will play a pivotal part in their effort to defend their NL East title. Of late, the bullpen has been getting some much-needed help from some unexpected pitchers.
Jackson Pitching Well After Rocky Start
Entering the season Luke Jackson was the object of much criticism. Jackson spent the last two seasons with the Braves after making his debut with the Rangers in 2015. He had been largely ineffective sporting a 4.53 ERA during his time in Atlanta. He found his way on the roster this season largely due to the team doing little in the off-season to address their bullpen needs.
An opening day implosion did little to bolster confidence from the team and fans alike. Jackson was torched for four earned runs in only one inning of work when the Braves dropped the season opener to the Phillies. He only surrendered two hits but compounded things by walking two batters.
Since that outing, Jackson has been the Braves’ most reliable reliever. He has made twelve more appearances without allowing a single earned run. In those outings, he has pitched 13 innings striking out 15 batters and only issuing four walks. His ERA has improved to 2.57 and he now sports a respectable 1.21 WHIP on the season. He earned his first save of the season on Sunday in a tight 8-7 win over the Rockies. His recent success has likely earned him more opportunities in high leverage situations moving forward.
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) April 28, 2019
Injuries Open the Door for New Faces
The past week has seen the Braves send relievers Jesse Biddle and Chad Sobotka to the injured list. Biddle was hit with a comebacker and suffered a thigh contusion and groin strain. An abdominal strain has sidelined Sobotka. Neither pitcher had been particularly dependable this season.
Their time on the injured list has opened the door for some new relievers to have an opportunity to prove themselves. Rookie Jacob Webb was called up in mid-April and has performed very well for the big league club. In six appearances, he has yet to yield an earned run. Braves manager Brian Snitker has been impressed thus far.
He told Stan Awtrey of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I really like what I’ve seen in him. I’d like to ease him in, but it’s not the perfect spot all the time.” Webb earned the first win of his career on Sunday and followed that up with his first save against the Padres on Monday.
Front Office Brings in Veteran Help
Early season trades are unusual in baseball, however, the Braves did pull off a deal to try and bolster their bullpen late in the first month of the season. The team recently acquired veteran reliever Jerry Blevins from the Athletics for cash considerations. He spent the last four seasons with the Mets and is very familiar with the NL East foes he will be facing. In addition to being familiar with the division, Blevins also has playoff experience to offer. In six playoff appearances with two clubs, he has not allowed a run. The left-hander is in his thirteenth big league season and should serve as a nice veteran presence for a young bullpen staff.
The Braves lineup is solid and the young pitching staff is coming in to form with the emergence of Mike Soroka and Max Fried. It appears that the success of the season will hinge largely on the continued development and performance of the bullpen. Recent success by newcomers and the front office’s willingness to acquire help are hopeful signs.
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