Brian Snitker knew managing back-to-back bullpen games would be a challenge.
The Braves captain had just one pitcher of the six who participated in Game 4 on Saturday pitching multiple innings and going into Game 5 on Sunday, but he knew the bullpen would be more tired after two straight games with at least five pitchers used. . .
“When we won yesterday, it made it easier, I guess, to get into this one, but we knew it was going to be tough,” Snitker said. “It’s just that it’s just a bunch of innings to cover against a club like this that swings the bat so well. I mean, the good news is that we’ll take a day off and we’ll be in good shape.”
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Snitker tried to maximize innings from some of the cooler arms, but in doing so, he allowed the Astros to hurt them.
The game started with Tucker Davidson on the hill. It fits more into the traditional mold of the starting pitcher. Davidson has started all five of his major league appearances and has pitched exclusively as a starter in the minors since early 2018.
But that means he hadn’t appeared in the postseason in his career either, and was only added to the list when Charlie Morton fractured his right fibula in Game 1 of the World Series.
Even though Davidson hasn’t pitched a competitive inning since Oct. 3 at Triple-A, Snitker said he expected to get about 75 pitches from the 25-year-old southpaw.
“Even after two (innings), there’s a lot of play to cover, we had some players down,” Snitker said. “We were going to try to stretch it out as much as we could, and I think we did.”
Davidson pitched well in the first, allowing just one walk and erasing the runner on a double play. But in the second, with his team leading 4-0, he gave up a single, a walk, a double and a sacrifice fly that brought the game to 4-2.
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Up to 41 pitches after the second, Davidson came to bat in the bottom half of the inning and started the third. After Jose Altuve stretched on an error, Davidson walked Michael Brantley, marking the end of his night on 53 pitches. Both running backs turned to score with reliever Jesse Chavez on the hill, but were charged as dirty runs to Davidson due to the error.
The Braves took the lead in the bottom of the third with a solo homer from Freddie Freeman. But in the top of the fourth, the Astros put in a runner, and with left-handed hitter Brantley with two outs, Snitker turned to southpaw AJ Minter, who quickly struck out.
Even though Minter’s spot appeared on the lineup in the next half of the inning, Snitker let him hit in a one-run game to try and get multiple innings out of him.
The next inning, Minter allowed two hits and intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs for eighth batter Martin Maldonado. On a full count, he threw a pitch deep inside to walk Maldonado and tie the game. He stayed out to face pinch hitter Marwin Gonzalez, who singled to left field to give Houston a 7-5 lead.
Minter said he did not consider his appearance to be a bad start, but rather believed he was unlucky with the results.
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“I felt like my stuff was as sharp tonight as any other outing. I was getting ahead of the hitters. I felt like I was 0-2, 1-2 almost all the hitters and those guys, they made good quality swings on two strikes.” Minter said. “Obviously, with Maldonado, I realized that I was going up, trying to work a walk. And for me, it was just that I tried to aim the ball instead of driving towards the glove. And that’s obviously the only thing that would take away. Then a jam shot, a flare shot to score two runs. “
Minter had been the least taxed of Atlanta’s dominant left-handed relievers up to that point. Tyler Matzek and closer Will Smith had pitched in Games 3 and 4. Minter showed a knack for throwing multiple innings when he was 2 2/3 in Game 1 and allowed one run for the win. His most recent outing was in Game 4 when he pitched an inning.
Snitker said he hoped to get multiple tickets from him again, but that after the way it was his fifth, he “couldn’t get him to come back.”
“It was just, you know, just hoping, like he did the other day, that, I mean, my God, it’s been so good. He’s had such a great postseason, and he had to work really hard. It didn’t work out.” Snitker said. “We’re going to take that shot right there and see if we can keep the game in check and then go from there because we felt like he was our best option. And in that situation, especially with Brantley coming in, to maybe get to a point where that we can rebuild it with the other guys. “
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In the seventh, with Atlanta just two runs down, Snitker went to left-hander Drew Smyly, who hadn’t pitched since Game 2 when he worked the seventh inning with his team trailing 6-2. Smyly pitched the final three innings Sunday, but also allowed a pair of runs on five hits, widening the gap to 9-5 rather than keeping it close for Atlanta at the end.
If the goal was to preserve the Braves’ remaining upper relief arms, Luke Jackson, Matzek and Smith, then the goal was achieved. None of the three entered the game even at times when it felt like the advantage was slipping away. The Braves could have opted to pull out all the saves in Game 5 and use their best relievers since the game was closed late. Even if one or more of Matzek, Jackson and Smith had been used and Atlanta still lost, they would have had a chance to rest on the travel day before the series returned to Houston.
Snitker hopes to avoid a bullpen game again for the rest of the series. He has Max Fried in Game 6 and he would probably hand the ball to Ian Anderson if there was a Game 7. And now, for better or worse, all the best relievers on the team are going to get a lot of rest.
“(Fried is) ready to go. I mean, we had it in reserve if something happened today, they locked us in extra tickets or whatever, we were going to, you know, take it there and then possibly use it today as well,” Snitker said. “But you know, I always feel good when Max pitches. I mean, he always gives you a chance to win and, like I say, our bullpen is in good shape, Max is fully rested and we should be ready.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.