A bullpen game presents a number of challenges in itself, especially in the postseason. Brian Snitker and the Atlanta Braves were dealt an unexpected hand Wednesday when Huascar Ynoa came down with a sore shoulder and needed to be replaced on the NLCS roster. A difficult task got that much harder.
They were able to make it work in a 9-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 4 Wednesday night to take a 3-1 lead in the NLCS. An early offensive outburst certainly helped, but the Braves got a good performance from Drew Smyly in his first appearance this postseason. Smyly ended up throwing 3 1/3 innings while allowing two hits and two runs. He exited with the Braves leading 5-2. You might look at a performance where a pitcher gives up two runs in three innings as nothing to celebrate, but for Atlanta Wednesday night, getting three innings from Smyly in a bullpen game was huge.
“I admire him so much and the professionalism and how he stays ready,” Snitker said when asked about Smyly’s performance. “He’s always ready to go. He’s been through a lot. He’s been a big part. I mean, he’s won a lot of games for us, we won a lot of games that he started, and then we shied away from him and he just keeps working. He’ll do anything, he’s a true professional to handle the situation like he has and to perform like he has. I got a lot of admiration for that man.”
Jesse Chavez worked a perfect first inning before Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall tagged Julio Urias for back-to-back home runs in the second. The pitcher spot came up with a runner on and Snitker opted to pinch-hit with Johan Camargo. Smyly said the plan coming in was for him to face Gavin Lux whenever his first plate appearance came up. The early offense put him in the game earlier than they had planned.
“I was going to have Lux no matter what,” Smyly said. “Until Chavez’s spot came up, he was going to face Will Smith. When the spot came up in the second I just had the whole inning and I just took it like any other game, just get every out I can until they take the ball from me.”
The Braves signed Smyly to a one-year, $11 million contract this past offseason in hopes that he would add rotation depth. He made 23 starts for the Braves in what was an up and down season overall. His last start came on August 30 at Dodger Stadium where he allowed nine hits, five runs in just 4 2/3 innings. Four of those nine hits left the ballpark. Smyly finished the season in a bullpen role but saw fewer opportunities. He said after the game that it was a satisfying result to return to Los Angeles and come up with a good result.
“Yeah, it is,” Smyly said. “I mean, you’re going to have bad starts when you’re making 30 starts across the season. I shook that start off the next day and I was ready to pitch and I’ve just been trying to make the most of my opportunities. So I was excited to get back out there today and have another chance at them.”
Bullpen games in the postseason have become the new normal across Major League Baseball. The Braves have done a good job of utilizing them during their current postseason run. Atlanta’s bullpen as a whole was maligned at times during the regular season, but has done an excellent job when called upon during the postseason.