Braves lose crucial bullpen arm to injury, recall Jackson Stephens to take his place

Atlanta is down another arm as one of their high leverage relievers is dealing with arm troubles.

Cleveland Guardians v Atlanta Braves
Cleveland Guardians v Atlanta Braves / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

The Atlanta Braves pitching staff as a whole has done quite well for itself in 2024 despite losing Spencer Strider for the season. The rotation has been surprisingly good and the Braves' bullpen has the ninth best ERA (3.28) in all of baseball this year. Considering the number of questions surrounding the Braves entering the season, fans should take that 10 out of 10 times.

One of the more key bullpen arms that the Braves retained this season was Pierce Johnson who Atlanta traded for at the deadline last year. Johnson posted a 0.76 ERA after the trade and the Braves were more than happy to keep him around for this season as well as 2025. Other than one bad outing at the beginning of April, Johnson has continued that good work in 2024 with a 3.00 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings of work.

However, fans had begun to notice that Johnson hadn't come out of the pen since April 29 and there was understandable concern that he was dealing with something. Those fears appear to have founded as the Braves placed Pierce Johnson on the IL with an elbow issue and recalled Jackson Stephens to fill in while he is out.

Braves News: Pierce Johnson headed to the IL with elbow injury, Jackson Stephens recalled

Unlike the rotation, Atlanta's bullpen is technically deep enough to absorb the loss of an arm in the short-term. However, Johnson is a guy that the Braves could trust in high leverage situations and losing him makes navigating the late innings far more treacherous especially when you consider that the Braves are in the middle of a brutal west coast swing and the fact that the guy replacing him on the roster is far more hit and miss.

Speaking of Jackson Stephens, he is back once again. Stephens is basically the Braves emergency bench reliever who gets called up when someone is hurt and played a similar role last year as well when he posted a very reasonable 3.00 ERA in five appearances in 2023. Stephens has made a handful of appearances at Triple-A Gwinnett this year posting very similar run prevention numbers, but with a notable uptick in his strikeout rate to 12.5 K/9 in a small sample.

It will be interesting to see how the Braves use Stephens during this stint. He certainly isn't unplayable, but Atlanta has a habit of sticking with "their guys" unless games are routs and those arms like Minter and Jimenez could get worn out pretty quickly if manager Brian Snitker continues to lean on them. At some point, they are just going to have to rip the bandaid off and give Stephens an opportunity to prove himself especially if Johnson's elbow injury proves to be a long-term one.

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