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'Here we go': Braves roll, Elder wins MLB debut

Ozuna stays hot with two-homer game; Albies breaks out at the plate against Nats


ATLANTA — If life is going to continue to be this easy for Bryce Elder at the Major League level, then he’s going to have a lot of fun within his new environment.

Elder displayed the poise of a seasoned veteran as he cruised into the sixth inning of his Major League debut on Tuesday night at Truist Park. His stoic effort combined with Marcell Ozuna’s two-homer performance helped the Braves get back on track with a stress-free 16-4 win over the Nationals.

“When it hit me was when I went to the bullpen to warm up before the game,” said Elder, ranked as the club’s No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline. “When I walked across the field, I looked around. Then as I got in the bullpen in the back room back there, I was like, ‘Here we go.’”

Nobody was stressing about the fact the Braves had lost three of their first five games. But there was reason to worry about how the 2021 World Series champs might continue to be adversely affected by Huascar Ynoa lasting just three innings in Monday’s ugly loss. Ynoa’s ineffective outing led to the club closing the 11-2 defeat to Washington with Tucker Davidson, who was tentatively scheduled to start on Tuesday.

But hours after being promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett, Elder and Jackson Stephens combined to record 26 of 27 outs and reset the Braves’ pitching staff ahead of Wednesday’s afternoon rubber game and a seven-game trip to San Diego and Los Angeles.

“What they did was huge from where we were and needing a game like that,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It was perfect to regroup. That was huge, probably more so than they even know.”

With Davidson unavailable, Atlanta promoted Elder to begin his second professional season at the big league level. No big deal. The 22-year-old hurler out of the University of Texas righted the ship by limiting the Nationals to three runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings. His line would have been even more impressive had Juan Soto and Josh Bell not tagged him with back-to-back home runs with two outs in the sixth.

“Obviously, I didn’t want it to end the way it ended,” Elder said. “I think I made good pitches throughout the night. At the end, I’ve just got to be better. But I can’t complain. I had a lot of fun.”

Snitker wasn’t ready to commit to giving Elder another start. But he doesn’t seemingly have any better choices, especially after Davidson was optioned to Gwinnett. The Braves will stick with a six-man rotation through at least next week, when they end a stretch of playing 14 consecutive days.

Here are the top three takeaways from Tuesday’s game:

Elder’s rise
With their fourth-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, the Braves selected Spencer Strider, who has offered an array of triple-digit fastballs during his first two appearances out of Atlanta’s bullpen this year. The club’s fifth-round pick was Elder, whose fastball sat around 90-91 mph as he kept the Nationals relatively silent.

Elder and Strider go about it in a different manner. But both former college pitchers have rocketed through the system. They were drafted after COVID-19 canceled the 2020 Minor League season. So, both pitchers experienced their first professional season last year. Yet, they have shown they’re ready to help the World Series champs.

After Elder was doused with beer during a postgame celebration, he got dressed again in his full uniform. As Strider playfully yelled something across the room, Elder said, “You don’t think my mom will make me take pictures?”

Hot start
Ozuna missed the final four months of last season after being arrested for domestic violence. The veteran outfielder played this past winter in the Dominican Republic and he came to Spring Training ready to get back to where he was in 2020, when he produced MVP credentials.

So far, so good for Ozuna, who homered off Austin Voth in the fourth inning and Paolo Espino in the fifth. He is 8-for-17 with four doubles and two homers over his past four games.

“Every time I come to the park, I’m working on being the 2020 player that I was,” Ozuna said.

Breaking out
Ozzie Albies tallied a two-run double in the second inning against Patrick Corbin and then he capped a three-hit night with an eighth-inning homer off Dee Strange-Gordon, the veteran utility player who had never previously pitched. Albies entered the game 2-for-16 with a double.

Dansby Swanson also doubled during a multi-hit performance. The veteran shortstop has gone 4-for-22 with 12 strikeouts.

“Dansby has been through some rough stretches before and he always comes out,” Snitker said. “And Ozzie, too. I don’t think there is ever a doubt in Ozzie’s mind that he can’t hit.”

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