You’d be forgiven if at times this season, you said, “where’re all these prospects we traded everyone I knew for?”
The opening day lineup included five players over the age of 30. Two of the five reserves used that day were over 30. That doesn’t include Emilio Bonifacio, Kurt Suzuki, Jaime Garcia, Jim Johnson, Sam Freeman, or Josh Collmenter – all regular faces over the first few months who were in the Age-30 season or older. Oh, and that definitely doesn’t include R.A. Dickey or Bartolo Colon, who both hit their 30’s over a decade ago. For a team that was all about the rebuild, this was an old team and a guy like Jason Motte didn’t help make it any younger.
It was frustrating for casual and decidedly more-than-casual fans of the team to watch as prospects began to accumulate in Gwinnett while Adonis Garcia and Eric O’Flaherty appeared with regularity and disappointment over the first few months. You may have even lost a bit of your faith in the Braves front office and management. It’s okay if you did. Like I said, you’re forgiven.
On Wednesday night, we witnessed the latest example of what this youth movement might mean. Facing a playoff bound team destined to win 95 or so games, the Braves beat the Nationals with ease, leaning on a young quartet of pitchers. Sure, Matt Kemp‘s Grand Slam was the Sportscenter highlight, but the real story of this game was the youngins.
On the mound to begin the game was Luiz Gohara, who just turned 21 on the last day of July. Embarrassed by first-game jitters his last time out, Gohara took the mound against Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Ryan Zimmerman and made the Nationals quite aware that the young lefty just might be a problem for them to deal with for the next half-decade. With control that was missing his first time out, Gohara surgically placed his 97 mph fastball wherever he wanted throughout the evening. He then followed that up with his slider, which had the Nationals swinging themselves into pretzels. He was even able to spot his much-improved changeup, using it effectively to keep the Washington hitters at bay. It was the kind of stuff that may have made Bryce Harper happy to still be on the shelf.
Anyone impressed w/Acuña’s rise through the system should look @ Gohara. He did the same thing, hitting AA 7 days after & AAA 13 days after. https://t.co/WNr0uNR2cq
— Matt Chrietzberg (@MChrietzberg) September 14, 2017
He’s right, ya know.
The Braves followed Gohara’s outing with the 27-year-old rookie, Dan Winkler. Since he returned to the team last month, Winkler has been nearly as a lights-out as he was at the beginning of last season before he fractured his elbow. A rare bullpen piece that throws five pitches, Winkler gave his changeup the night off and worked instead off his four-seamer, cutter, and slider with a sinker tossed in there for good measure. Whatever he threw, the Nats were powerless. Howie Kendrick hit a grounder to short while Michael Taylor struck out looking. Jayson Werth saw three fastballs, including a cutter, before swinging over an 82 mph slider.
A.J. Minter got the call next and Turner singled off him. That at-bat followed back-to-back strikeouts of Matt Wieters and Raudy Reed with the latter looking just sad against Minter’s slider. Randy, don’t disappear. You aren’t the first, nor will you be the last to look to the heavens as the slider defies physics. Minter toyed with Wilmer Difo next, throwing the infielder four sliders at 89-90 mph before throwing a 97 mph fastball that Difo could only look at.
With the lead safely in hand, the Braves called on Lucas Sims to finish it. A starter by trade, the 23-year-old Sims has been moved into a bullpen role. He drew three of the better bats in Wednesday’s lineup – Rendon, Zimmerman, and Kendrick. They didn’t have a chance against Sims’ four-pitch mix of a 93-94 mph fastball, 87-89 mph slider, and the occasional 84 mph change and 82 mph curve. Zimmerman struck out for the second time in the game and the Braves’ rookie arms struck out 12 overall.
Not to be outdone, the first two batters, Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, reached base a combined four times. They also scored twice and were credited with three runs driven in. Lane Adams, another 27-year-old rookie who keeps hitting, filled in admirably for Ender Inciarte with three hits, including his first major league triple.
This season has been trying for Braves fans – myself included. Watching Jason Motte get innings while Akeel Morris remained in Gwinnett was difficult. And watching Adonis Garcia play over Rio Ruiz was very frustrating. For a rebuilding team, the Braves of the first several months seemed awfully focused on the here-and-now. That much appears to be changing. The Braves are beginning to put the kids first and it’s about time.
On Thursday, the Braves started just three players over the age of 30.
It’s progress. And progress, my dear friends, is a good thing.