Blair displays improved slider after shaky beginning vs. Yankees


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The first batter faced by Aaron Blair on Saturday in a split-squad game knocked him out of the game with a comebacker that hit the pitcher in his glove hand, and the first batter he faced Friday took him deep on the third pitch of the game.

But things got better Friday not long after Brett Gardner’s leadoff homer in the Yankees’ first inning. Blair gave up a single to the next batter, Jacoby Ellsbury, and walked Aaron Judge before inducing a double-play grounder from Chris Carter.

Beginning with that double play, Blair recorded eight outs in his last 10 batters to give him a solid outing in his third game, an 8-7 loss in which the Braves got five RBIs on two late-innings homers from journeyman Matt Tuiasosopo, an extra brought over from minor league camp for the day.

Taking the scheduled turn of Julio Teheran, who’s away at the World Baseball Classic, Blair pitched 2 2/3 innings and was charged with five hits, one run and one walk with three strikeouts.

“He started pitching,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “The dam could have broke a couple of times on him, but he made pitches, location got a little better, he started hitting (spots with) those fastballs, threw some good breaking balls. I keep forgetting that, shoot, he missed his last start pretty much. He was OK today.”

Blair struck out the last two batters he faced, Judge and Carter, and left after throwing 36 strikes in 56 pitches. After falling behind in counts at the outset of the game, he began throwing his fastball for strikes and complemented it with a slider that he’s worked hard to improve since his disappointing rookie season.

“First inning was big,” Blair said, “getting the first three guys on base and then making one pitch to get two outs, then being able to get (Aaron) Hicks to pop out to right, that was big for me. And getting the two strikeouts in the third, that was big for me.”

Blair struggled mightily in seven of his 15 major league starts as a rookie in 2016, when he had to get by mostly on fastballs and change-ups. He went 2-7 with a 7.59 ERA for the Braves and gave up 82 hits including 14 home runs and 34 walks in 70 innings while recording 46 strikeouts.

“Fastball felt like it was coming out a little better than two times ago,” Blair said, referring to his first spring outing, when he gave up three hits, one run and two walks in two innings against the Astros. “The last (start) was, like, four pitches (before he left the game). Slider was there today, change-up was there when I needed it, so I felt pretty comfortable.”

The slider could be a key to bigger things for Blair, he said.

“It was there all game, got some swing-and-misses, threw it for strikes when I needed to,” he said. “That, with my change-up, was kind of an equalizer for right-handed and left-handed hitters… I threw Judge a 2-1 slider today. Last year that would have either been a fastball or a change-up, so this year having a third weapon for me, hopefully it’s big.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Atlanta Braves

Chipper Q&A, Pt. 2: On HOF, Andruw, and being mistaken for ... Brett Favre?
Chipper Q&A, Pt. 2: On HOF, Andruw, and being mistaken for ... Brett Favre?

Chipper Jones was the greatest Braves position player since Hank Aaron and one of the finest switch-hitters and best all-around third basemen in baseball history. Now he’s poised to become a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection and have one of the highest voting percentages in history when the baseball Hall of Fame announces its Class of 2018...
Chipper Jones Q&A, Part 1: What he’s been up to, Hall of Fame outlook
Chipper Jones Q&A, Part 1: What he’s been up to, Hall of Fame outlook

  It’s been five years and 3 ½ months since Larry Wayne Jones, aka Chipper, strode to home plate for the last time in a major league game, slowed by age and injuries but still with a distinct gait that exuded confidence and swagger and so much of what made No. 10 the player Braves Country loved and opposing fans, particularly in New...
Braves sign arbitration-eligible Vizcaino, but not ‘Folty’
Braves sign arbitration-eligible Vizcaino, but not ‘Folty’

The Braves signed reliever Arodys Vizcaino to a one-year, $3.4 million contract to avoid going to arbitration with their top closer candidate, but didn’t agree to a deal with arbitration-eligible starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz before a Friday deadline. That means Foltynewicz is likely to become just the second arbitration hearing in 17 years...
Braves sign Dan Winkler to one-year deal, avoiding arbitration
Braves sign Dan Winkler to one-year deal, avoiding arbitration

The Braves signed reliever Dan Winkler to a one-year, $610,000 contract Friday, avoiding arbitration with the right-hander. After he missed much of three seasons recovering from two major elbow surgeries, Winkler made an impressive return in late August, posting a 2.51 ERA and .152 opponents’ average in 16 appearances and allowing seven hits...
Braves sign Sam Freeman, avoid arbitration with lefty
Braves sign Sam Freeman, avoid arbitration with lefty

The Braves signed reliever Sam Freeman to a one-year, $1.075 million contract Thursday, avoiding arbitration with the left-hander. Freeman, 30, was eligible for arbitration for the first time after posting career-best statistics in 2017 with the Braves, his fourth team in four seasons. He was 2-0 with a 2.55 ERA in 58 appearances and had 59 strikeouts...
More Stories