At the moment, life is pretty great for the Atlanta Braves. The team is firing on all cylinders, currently in the midst of a seven-game winning streak, thanks to a hard-hitting lineup and some excellent pitching. The left field situation is still a problem, no doubt, but outside of that (and Marcell Ozuna), there’s really not much to complain about. A 14-4 record and first-place in the division is certainly a strong start to the campaign but I can’t help but wonder about a potential tough decision for manager Brian Snitker:

Who will close games once Raisel Iglesias is back from the injured list?

In case you’re confused as to why this would be a question: last August, the Braves acquired the right-handed Iglesias from the Angels, in exchange for former prospect pitcher Tucker Davidson and veteran reliever Jesse Chavez. Iglesias was good in LA (4.04 ERA / 3.17) but even better in Atlanta (0.34 ERA / 1.52) in 2022, setting himself up to become the team’s primary closer for 2023, given Will Smith was traded to the Astros prior to the acquisition and Kenley Jansen’s one-year pact was set to expire in the offseason. However, it was reported in late March of this year that Iglesias was dealing with right shoulder inflammation and was to be shut down for seven days. Obviously that diagnosis has been a little more serious than originally expected, as the 33-year-old has been on the 15-day IL since the beginning of the 2023 season, just recently throwing his first bullpen session on Monday. Fortunately, according to Iglesias, he “feels great” (per The Athletic’s David O’Brien), but he’ll likely need to complete some type of rehab assignment before throwing his first pitch for the Braves this year.

In the meantime, Minter has been extraordinary for Atlanta, notching his fourth save of the season last night in the team’s 2-0 victory over San Diego. In 2023, Minter’s had nine appearances and has pitched to a stingy 2.00 ERA and 2.21 FIP, to go with eight strikeouts and just two walks. Sure, Minter’s K rate is down roughly 10% so far this season as he’s averaging only eight punch-outs per nine innings in the early going. But regardless, he’s getting the job done, having yet to allow a home run, with a triple his lone XBH surrendered.

It appears the key to a lot of Minter’s success so far has been his resurgent cutter, a pitch he has leaned on quite a lot during his career. Though he was still mostly effective, in 2022 Minter’s cutter was knocked around to the tune of a .338 AVG by opposing batters, which perhaps is the reason – for the first time in three seasons – the offering became his second most-thrown pitch instead of his first by the end of the campaign. Thus far in 2023, that cutter has held batters just 1 for 13 (.077 AVG), to go with a 45.2% whiff rate (compared to 36.2% last year). Paired with a 95-96 MPH four-seam fastball that’s seemingly always been a weapon for him, an improved cutter gives Minter more of an advantage versus those slugging righty batters he’ll have to face in the final innings. The Braves current closer has also been more successful so far this season at inducing chases in general, currently running a career-high 37.1% chase rate on the year. Plus, so far Minter is giving up the weakest contact of his MLB career (82.4 MPH avg EV), lowest wOBA (.206) AND is currently carrying his lowest hard-hit rate (18.2 Hard Hit%).

It’s only been 17 games this season, and even less for Minter, so of course we’re talking a very small sample size here. But what happens if he keeps this up? With Iglesias now actually throwing bullpen sessions, it’s safe to assume that as long as everything progresses normally, he should be ready to pitch for Atlanta very soon. The Braves currently sport the fourth-best bullpen in baseball, in terms of collective ERA (2.78). Does Snitker mess with that? Or is this an easy decision to go with Iglesias given how well he performed during the second-half of last season? Either way it goes, we’ll certainly find out soon.

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