Braves’ A.J. Smith-Shawver expected to make season debut vs. Cubs

Atlanta is expected to recall top rookie pitching prospect A.J. Smith-Shawver to start the rubber game of the three-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Thursday.

The teams split the first two games, with Chicago winning the opener 4-3 in 10 innings and Atlanta taking the second game 9-2. Atlanta leads the season series 3-2.

Smith-Shawver, a hard-throwing right-hander, made six appearances (five starts) for the Braves in 2023 and went 1-0 with a 4.26 ERA.

The seventh-round pick in 2021 had a productive spring and showed off an effective new changeup, but the club opted to send the 21-year-old back to Triple-A Gwinnett to be part of the rotation. His results have been mixed, going 1-2 with a 6.10 ERA in eight starts. He has 35 strikeouts and 17 walks in 31 innings for the Stripers.

“He’s got a great makeup and the realization of everything he needs to work on,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said in the spring.

The Cubs will go with rookie Ben Brown (1-1, 3.57), who will make his fifth start and first since May 2. The right-hander’s last three appearances have come out of the bullpen. He is 1-0 with a 1.17 ERA over that stretch, allowing one run in 7 2/3 combined innings. He most recently pitched two scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.

It was supposed to be Kyle Hendricks’ turn in the rotation, but Chicago moved the veteran right-hander to the bullpen after he went 0-4 with a 10.57 ERA in his first seven starts. Hendricks took the demotion in stride.

“We all know what’s been going on,” Hendricks said. “I think just trying to give the team the best chance to win, at the end of the day. That’s all I’m trying to be about too. I’m honestly excited for the opportunity and the challenge in a way. Just a big opportunity to turn things around.”

Hendricks has made just two relief appearances in his 11-year career, one in 2016 and the other in a loss in the 2018 National League wild-card game against the Colorado Rockies.

Atlanta designated hitter Marcell Ozuna has a 15-game hitting streak. He hit his National League-leading 15th home run on Wednesday and has gone deep in three of his past four games. He is tied with Alec Bohm for the NL lead with 46 RBIs.

The Braves got good news on the injury front on Wednesday. Catcher Sean Murphy, on a rehab assignment with Gwinnett, caught on Tuesday, took Wednesday off and is scheduled to catch five to six innings on Thursday and be the designated hitter on Friday. He could be activated for the team’s next home series that begins Monday against Washington. Murphy has been out with an oblique injury since March 30 and has missed 45 games.

“I feel great,” Murphy said after hitting a home run in his first rehab game. “About as good as you could hope for. Bat speed was there. I did everything behind the plate I wanted to do. It was good.”

Atlanta third baseman Austin Riley, who has missed nine games with left side tightness, was able to hit off a tee, but the team has not set a schedule for his return.

–Field Level Media