The Braves have opened their 2023 season facing a great deal of uncertainty in the rotation. The club went into camp with a battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, expecting Bryce Elder, Ian Anderson, and Michael Soroka to be the favorites for the role. That didn’t come to pass, however, as Soroka was slowed early in camp while both Anderson and Elder struggled, opening the door for Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd to elevate themselves on the organizational depth chart with strong springs. MLBTR held a poll toward the end of Spring Training regarding which of the two young lefties should start the regular season in the rotation, which Shuster won with 68.56% of the vote.
Ultimately, the Braves were never forced to make a decision between Dodd and Shuster for the fifth spot, as Kyle Wright began the season on the injured list, allowing both lefties to open the season in the rotation. Since that time, the rotation picture in Atlanta has gotten far more hectic. Club ace Max Fried went on the injured list with a hamstring injury, while Anderson went on the IL in the minors due to elbow issues, leaving Elder to join the rotation in Fried’s stead. Meanwhile, both Shuster and Dodd have struggled to open the season.
With Wright expected to make his first start of the season on Tuesday and Fried expected to miss roughly the fifteen day minimum, the Braves find themselves once again forced to make a decision on who their fifth starter should be once the front four of Fried, Wright, Spencer Strider, and Charlie Morton are all healthy and starting every fifth day. With Soroka still not fully ramped up, it appears the options for the club’s fifth rotation spot are Dodd, Shuster, and Elder, each of whom have made at least one start for the club this season.
Shuster appears to be the least likely of the three options. The 24-year old lefty has made two starts for Atlanta so far this season, but has struggled in both. In his major league debut, Shuster allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Nationals, allowing six hits and 5 walks while striking out just one. His second start was worryingly similar to his first, albeit against a much more threatening Padres team than the lowly Nats: four runs in four innings of work on six hits with four walks and four strikeouts.
While Shuster impressed with a 1.74 ERA in 20 2/3 innings of work this spring, he’s appeared over-matched two starts into his big league career, and it seems safe to assume that the Braves will allow him time in Triple-A to right the ship before returning him to the big league rotation, barring further injuries to the big league club.
Dodd has a stronger case for a longer leash in the rotation than Shuster, having impressed in his MLB debut by holding a loaded Cardinals lineup to just one run over five innings of work, striking out three while walking none. Dodd’s first start of the season showed the same promise as his spring performance, where he posted a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings of work, striking out 20 while walking just four. Unfortunately, Dodd’s second start was not as successful as his first, as he struggled badly in 4 1/3 innings against the Padres, allowing seven runs on ten hits (two home runs) and a walk while striking out three.
After such a difficult second start, it’s reasonable to wonder if Dodd might also benefit from additional time in Triple-A before becoming a mainstay in the Braves’ rotation. After all, the 24-year old has made just one start in Triple-A, with only 53 innings of experience above High-A in the minor leagues.
That lack of experience seems likely to open the door for Elder as the most likely option to stick in Atlanta as a member of the rotation once Fried returns from the injured list. Though Elder struggled badly in Spring Training surrendering three home runs and five walks in just 11 2/3 innings of work, he dominated the Cardinals for six innings in his first start of the season on Wednesday, allowing no runs on two hits while striking out six over six innings of work. Though his spring problems with the free pass carried over into the regular season as he walked three in his season debut, Elder was able to find success in the big leagues last year in spite of a 10.1% walk rate, posting a 3.17 ERA in 54 innings of work last season.
With Fried set to miss at least another week of action, both Dodd and Elder figure to get at least one more start before the Braves make a decision, to say nothing of the possibility that an injury elsewhere in the rotation or a setback for Fried could delay the decision even further. Barring those outcomes, who should the Braves keep in the rotation going forward? Is Elder’s experience and past success in the big leagues too valuable to pass up, or should the Braves stick with their initial decision and give the fifth spot in the rotation to one of Dodd or Shuster?
(poll link for app users)
Braves win the World Series again this year. Count on it.
I hope so. Harris is really a catalyst to the Braves. It’s becoming more apparent with every loss he’s not in the lineup.
Very bold it is a lot harder to win the World Series now than ever before. Extra round adds pressure for team and having a break also can affect the timing of players.
Not if they continue their early trend of injuries they aren’t.
As currently constructed, they aren’t deep enough to fight against this many injuries. Hardly any team could afford to lose their best two starters (arguably their best three with Soroka still out), their all-star CF, all-star C/DH, and missing three of their best four bullpen arms and be expected to contend with any regularity…
Strider makes a pretty compelling case to be considered one of the top 3 starters. Not sure Soroka should be thought of as being one of their “best three” after missing the last 2 plus seasons—it’s Fried/Strider/Wright imo. I don’t believe Soroka is even a top 7 option at this time. I’m not sold on his ability to pitch at his previous level because of the severe changes he made to his mechanics in an effort to reduce further injury risk. Not confident he’s the same pitcher. Hoping for the best for him, but not really expecting him to be much help to the rotation this season. Love to be wrong about that though.
Elder is the only one I have any confidence in.
I completely agree with this. While the other two weren’t really helped out by seemingly small K zones, they were still too hittable showing their lack of experience above AA.
Both Dodd and Shuster could eventually become solid #4-#5 starters on a contending team, but I believe Elder is ready now.
Elder has the ability to miss bats when he needs to, and that’s the difference between him, Shuster, and Dodd. The other two rely too heavily on their command, with less than average fastballs, and if they don’t have their best stuff, then they are likely to be tagged for several runs in short order.
They can learn to pitch without having their best stuff, but that takes time to develop that type of self-awareness and acumen on the mound. They haven’t had that kind of time spent against craftier and better all-around hitters in AAA.
They’ll get there in time, but for now give me Elder.
Respect your ELDER’s
Dodd and Shuster need more time in AAA. Elder has a better arsenal but is a traditional 5th starter, which is fine. Hopefully Soroka can build up innings this month and help out soon.
Love that Dodd has come in throwing a lot of strikes but he was hit pretty hard tonight. I have to go with Elder as #5 since he has the most experienced and more proven.
Elder for sure. ST numbers have been proven time and time again to mean very little, if anything at all.
Going with Elder because he’s just further along. For Dodd, it’s just learning what elite hitters can do, I think he’ll be a sold 4/5 in the majors eventually. Shuster I’m more concerned about because I’ve never been a big believer in his stuff.
By Memorial Day however, Soroka will have the spot and keep it the rest of the year.
You cant even begin that conversation about Soroka until he strings together 5-6 starts (basically a full spring training ramp up) where he feels healthy.
Elder for sure, Dodd is a solid backup if one of the pitchers goes down, Shuster is more of a long relief guy or a backup starter.
He hurt, and a Giant.
Hasn’t been a Brave for 2 or 3 years now…
He’s the Giants
In general, fifth starter discussions are pretty pointless. Teams line someone up in that fifth spot knowing full well (as we all should by now) that he’s just a temporary – and iffy – option, and this is going to be a revolving door all season long.
Shuster has looked like a total mess out there. Maybe just nerves, but he’s been really overmatched.
Shuster needs more minor league time; spring training numbers don’t always matter as it has a different field.
Back thing about being on a what should be a playoff contending team is don’t have a lot of chances to get work experience in the majors like with a rebuilding team. Either basically win or go back to triple a.
Dodd didn’t look very good tonight either he will be back in triple a Tuesday when Wright pitches
Use all three. The ?5th spot is a spot starters role on most manager’s teams.
Most teams don’t have the 40 man space or want to burn options on a revolving door for a 5th start
Dusty Baker sometimes goes with a 6 man rotation.
It’s part of managing the roster that best fits the club and situation. Use a set 5th Starter, a Spot Starter / Long Reliever or Short Reliever as an Opener. The Spot Starter has been the most used option for double headers and day after night games.
I wish they had done more about the pitching other than sign the corpse of Charlie Morton. He’s toast.
Charlie is fine as a 4th starter, which is what he is now. He’s a dependable veteran that can also help mentor the younger pitchers. I didn’t mind the sign, I just don’t understand why they paid him 20m dollars.
But the Braves brass has shown they largely know what they’re doing.
I’d been saying it should be elder since before the season. He’s not blow you away, but he’s definitely a solid 5th starter. Ideally we find a way where he pitches against all the middle tier to bad teams lol. My hope though is as the season continues, soroka comes in a takes it and is 75% of what he use to be if not better. Wishful thinking, but would love it nonetheless
If this keeps up, there’s not a Braves’ starter that won’t have me reaching for a fifth.
Fun fact, outfielder Jack Daniels played in 106 games for Boston in 1952.
Ha!! Good to know. He should have been beside Jimmy Beam…….James Beam….rock on!
Dodd was getting squeezed pretty good yesterday. I still think he’ll be fine. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a part of a trade package for a more established starter by the deadline.
He doesn’t seem to have a swing-and-miss pitch. Unless he uses his change up (and maybe develops a 4th pitch), he just looks hittable.
I think Dodd needs to add either velo or movement to be effective. Maybe he just had an off night with his secondary offerings, but when Nelson Cruz is saying your slider is basically a change up, that’s not a good indicator for your stuff. The repertoire right now is pretty much a 92mph FB and a couple 82 mph off speed pitches.
I don’t know if a little more time in the minors really fixes those things. His command is already great, the issue is his stuff itself. He may need to go down for an extended period of time to work on his slider or learn a new pitch.
Both Dodd and Schuster are down a few ticks in the early start to the season. They were both sitting in the mid 90s with their FB during spring training. To start the regular season they are sitting low 90s. So that Bite to their pitches isnt quite there….aka they need more time in the minors.
Dodd isn’t even a good AAA pitcher. They must be really thin if they’re trying that guy out. He’s already 24 and I don’t see any way the stuff and velo will improve. It’s batting practice with Dodds stuff
Shuster is by far the better pitcher, but obviously the command isn’t there yet
They’d be foolish not to go to Elder regularly. He was never a great prospect but he’s looking better this year
I was surprised how good he has looked with the uptick in velo and stuff he’s showing. It’s almost borderine nasty in a way
This was a guy I thought was only AAAA fodder, but now it looks like an ok 5th starter
“really thin” is not the way I’d describe the Braves pitching depth. Dodd and Shuster are 7 and 8 on the Braves’ depth chart. Other teams have guys like them in the 5th spot on a good day.
Elder’s last 6 MLB starts:
1.40 ERA and 2.56 FIP
9 K/9 to 2.7 BB/9
50% GB rate
He’s earned it
Please get Michael Soroka up here quick. This spring and in AAA, you can see he is better than before.
There’s nothing wrong with Dylan Dodd that pitch location would not fix… his pitches were down vs. The Cards, up vs the Padres. For some reason, he could not get on top of his pitches last night.
Shuster is worth a longer look, also.
Kyle Wright is the pitcher we should be worried about. He’s pitching like mid-2020… classic delivery, just not cutting it loose.
Elder is okay… preferable to Kyle Wright until Wright decides to fire his pitches.
Elder should’ve had the job all along but there was some good in getting the other two a taste so if they are thrown in the fire down the stretch they at least have some experience. I really don’t think they should’ve been up for the job to begin with after Elder actually helped the team for over 50 key innings last year. There has to be some loyalty and you can’t take spring training too seriously. It’s not as if Dodd and Shuster were like Grayson Rodriguez or some other top prospects. I really don’t know tho, I see both arguments. I like the atmosphere of open opportunity and that is it’s own type of loyalty as well
Respect your Elder.