Braves provide clarity to rotation competition with latest spring training roster cuts

Atlanta has given fans clarity on who the fifth starter role will be occupied by at the start of 2024.

Atlanta Braves v Baltimore Orioles
Atlanta Braves v Baltimore Orioles / Christopher Pasatieri/GettyImages

It has been a ongoing conversation during Spring Training who would end up being the fifth starter in the Atlanta Braves rotation. When the offseason began, many fans just assumed it would be Bryce Elder.

However, with how the second half of his 2023 season went and the additions made by the team during the offseason, that picture became a bit murky.

Atlanta signed Reynaldo Lopez and decided to stretch him out with hopes of being a starting pitcher and they traded Vaughn Grissom to the Red Sox to add Chris Sale to the rotation. This, unfortunately, sealed Elder's fate unless he had an incredible Spring.

Well, fans now have an answer to the end-of-the-rotation question. The Braves announced on Monday morning that Bryce Elder and Huascar Ynoa were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.

The team did not make any public comment on who would be the fifth starter at the time of the announcement but it's assumed this means Reynaldo Lopez will be the fifth starter for the time being.

Reynaldo Lopez expected to open season as Braves' fifth starter

Elder and Lopez have been battling it out during Spring Training to see who would prevail as that final rotation piece. Elder had some trouble in his starts and didn't look very impressive. However, he did show flashes of the pitcher he was in the first half of the season at times.

Elder's Spring to this point features 12 innings pitched with 11 runs on 15 hits including six walks and 13 strikeouts. That makes his ERA an alarming 8.25 after 4 total games. Not the best formula to earn a rotation spot.

Reynaldo Lopez has struggled with giving up home runs recently but overall his outings have been impressive to watch. Over 16.2 innings pitched, Lopez carries a 2.16 ERA with four runs allowed on 10 hits including 6 walks and 13 strikeouts.

Similarly to Elder, the walk rate isn't wonderful and that will need to improve if Lopez hopes to stay in the rotation. Some fans have expressed concern that Lopez's velocity is sitting around 93-94 mph on his fastball. He did touch 96 a couple of times during his most recent start.

This doesn't mean there is an underlying injury or anything, it's more that Lopez is conserving energy to make it through starts longer and part of getting stretched out. Fans need to remember Lopez hasn't started games in 3 years. His velocity when starting for the White Sox was around that speed as well.

So, there's a chance he can ramp things up to the upper 90s as he gets more reps in. If he were going to be in the Braves bullpen, we'd probably already be seeing that velocity in the 97-98 mph range a bit more.

Ultimately, the Braves seem to feel comfortable with where Lopez is enough to go ahead and give him that final rotation spot. He recently pitched on Sunday against the Red Sox and completed five innings and that was the first time this Spring he'd completed four or more full innings. It seems things are going well with stretching him out for the role.

Elder is in familiar territory as he began last season in Triple-A before coming up and earning an All-Star spot. If an injury happens, Elder would likely be one of the first names chosen to be called up.

As for Huascar Ynoa, he will likely spend a good chunk of time in Gwinnett since he is still working back from Tommy John surgery. He's not pitched on an MLB mound in 2 years. However, he looked good in his first spring outing and could be a great bullpen option for the Braves at some point.

We are two weeks away from the regular season and the roster is starting to take its final form. Split squad games are ending which means we will start seeing Atlanta's regulars playing in almost every game going forward.

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