Right-hander Aaron Blair was touted as being close to major-league ready when the Braves acquired him in a December 2015 trade. He didn’t show that during a rough rookie season in 2016, but this spring offers Blair another chance to prove he belongs.
Blair’s results Tuesday at the Phillies weren’t great: three runs allowed over four innings with three strikeouts and a walk. But manager Brian Snitker said Blair, 24, has made strides since last season.
“He’s consciously worked on things, and I think it’s getting better,” Snitker said. “Velocity was a little tick up today. He’s just got to keep pitching, keep working and adjusting. The more experience he gets, the better he’s going to be. We are going to need him again when it boils right down to it.”
Blair most likely will begin the season at Triple-A Gwinnett. But if projected No. 5 starter Mike Foltynewicz falters during the season or an injury leaves a hole in the rotation, then Blair could be first in line for another call-up.
The rough moments for Blair against the Phillies included a hit batter and two triples. But Tyler Goeddel’s two-run triple in the second inning rolled to the wall when right fielder Emilio Bonifacio couldn’t cut it off. The other triple, by Brock Stassi in the third, was a high fly ball that got caught in the strong wind blowing to right and carried all the way to the wall.
Blair’s highlights included retiring the Phillies in order in the fourth inning. Consecutive strikeouts of Goeddel and Cesar Hernandez ended his outing after 67 pitches with 41 strikes.
In 15 starts for the Braves last season Blair posted a 7.59 ERA over 70 innings with 82 hits allowed, including 14 home runs. Blair said he’s made progress since altering his delivery near the end of last season and getting a “different perspective” from new pitching coach Chuck Hernandez.
“I’m a lot more comfortable on the mound,” Blair said. “The slider has become a good weapon for me today. The fastball command is still not quite there but it’s getting there. Every time I go out I feel more comfortable with my delivery and the way things are going.”