Friday April 12th, 2024 7:30AM

Braves send 2023 All-Star Bryce Elder to minors. Reynaldo López earns spot in rotation

By The Associated Press

The Atlanta Braves optioned All-Star pitcher Bryce Elder to the minors on Monday, deciding to open the season with Reynaldo López as their fifth starter.

López, who signed a $30 million, three-year deal with the Braves in November, earned the rotation spot by allowing just four earned runs over 16 2/3 innings in five spring appearances. He surrendered 10 hits, walked six and struck out 13.

Elder, by comparison, gave up 11 earned runs and 15 hits in 12 innings covering four appearances for an 8.25 ERA.

Elder also began last season at Triple-A Gwinnett but was recalled early in the year and earned his first All-Star Game selection by going 7-2 with a 2.97 ERA ahead of the break.

But the 24-year-old right-hander faded over the second half of the season, seeming to tire as he worked a career-high 174 2/3 innings. He finished 12-4 with a 3.81 ERA and was hit hard in Game 3 of the NL Division Series, giving up six runs — including two homers — in just 2 2/3 innings against the Phillies.

For López, this marks a return to a starting role after he was used exclusively as a reliever the last two seasons by the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Guardians. He thrived out of the bullpen, posting a 3.02 ERA with 146 strikeouts in 131 1/3 innings over 129 appearances.

But the Braves signed López early in free agency with an eye toward using the hard-throwing right-hander as a starter again. He made a total of 65 starts for the White Sox over the 2018 and '19 seasons, going 17-22 with a 4.64 ERA.

López joins a rotation that also includes All-Star Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Charlie Morton and another newcomer, Chris Sale.

Elder likely will be back in the big leagues at some point this season. The Braves, who were ravaged by injuries to their starting staff in 2023, are expected to use more than five starters as they try to make sure everyone is healthy at the end of the season. Sale, especially, will be treated with caution as he comes back from multiple injuries.

It also made sense for the Braves to use López as a starter early in the season, even if he winds up returning to the bullpen. If he began as a reliever, it would have been difficult to stretch out his arm later in the year for a starting role.

Elder — along with top prospects AJ Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep — will start the year in the minors but be ready to step up when the Braves need a spot starter or decide to bulk up an already deep bullpen by shifting López's role.

Also Monday, the Braves optioned another rotation option, right-hander Huascar Ynoa, to Gwinnett. Ynoa missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery and made only one official appearance at spring training, working a scoreless inning.

After a 7-3 spring training loss to Tampa Bay, Atlanta essentially set its 26-man roster for the regular season by reassigning infielders David Fletcher, Luke Williams and Andrew Velazquez, outfielder Eli White and catchers Drake Baldwin and Chadwick Tromp to the minor league camp.

Speedy outfielder Forrest Wall earned a bench role over Williams and White, while Luis Guillorme beat out Fletcher for the utility infield slot.

The moves left the Braves with 28 players in their big league camp, but pitchers Penn Murfee and Angel Perdomo are both recovering from surgeries and headed to the long-term injured list.

Atlanta, which has won won six straight NL East titles, opens the season March 28 at Philadelphia.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

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