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  • Writer's pictureGrant McAuley

MDJ: Opportunity Knocks for Atlanta Braves Newcomer Ray Kerr

Atlanta Braves Reliever Ray Kerr.
Atlanta Braves Reliever Ray Kerr. (USA Today Sports - Brett Davis)

CUMBERLAND — Though the long regular season is still just getting started in many ways, the Atlanta Braves are once again discovering the importance of having reliable help waiting in the wings.


After losing a pair of key relievers to the injured list in the past week, the Braves turned to the minor leagues for reinforcements.


Left-hander Ray Kerr was the latest arm to answer that call, and he is hoping to make the most of this early opportunity.


“It’s been very exciting,” Kerr said of returning to the major leagues with Atlanta. “This was a call I got last year, but I kind of knew and had a feeling when it was coming. This was totally out of the blue, so it really surprised me. I’ve been putting in all the work this year, and I’m excited to show them what I’ve been working on.”


Kerr, 29, made it to the big leagues with the San Diego Padres in 2022, but he got a longer look last season. His high velocity has yielded impressive strikeout numbers at every level and intrigued the Braves as they sought to bring in quality pitching depth for 2024.


After attending Lassan College in Susanville, California, Kerr signed with the Seattle Mariners as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He began his career as a starting pitcher, then moved to the bullpen two years later, finding success in a variety of roles.


Twice traded, Kerr went from the Mariners to the Padres in the winter of 2021, then was dealt to Atlanta last December. He was invited to the Braves’ big league camp this spring, where his live arm got the attention of manager Brian Snitker with a fastball that averages 96 mph and can touch triple digits.


“Ray has been throwing well,” Snitker said. “We saw he was a stuff guy in spring training, and he’s gone multiple innings. It’s good to have a guy like that in the fold.”


Kerr piled up strikeouts with Triple-A Gwinnett before getting the call to Atlanta. He fanned 22 batters in 14 innings while posting a 4.50 ERA for the Stripers.


Those numbers were in line with Kerr’s results for the Padres last season, when he turned in a 4.33 ERA in 22 appearances and averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Major league hitters turned in a paltry .143 batting average against his curveball, which garnered 23 of Kerr’s 33 strikeouts with San Diego last season.


Adding Kerr to the depth chart was part of the offseason plan for a Braves team that faced a lot of pitching injuries in 2023. They were also without quality options from the left side after Tyler Matzek and Dylan Lee both missed significant time.


Matzek returned from Tommy John surgery this season but struggled in 11 appearances for Atlanta before being placed on the 15-day injured list with inflammation in his left elbow. This happened just two days after Pierce Johnson was placed on the IL with the same issue.


Those vacancies opened the door for Kerr to make his Braves debut Wednesday against Boston. He tossed a scoreless ninth inning with one strikeout in a 5-0 victory over the Red Sox.


Back in the big leagues and with a chance to be in the mix for a contending club, Kerr is hoping to put his best foot forward and continue to evolve as a pitcher.


“I ask a lot of questions (and) I pick a lot of people’s brains, especially that’s similar to what I’m going through,” Kerr said.


Listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, the lanky lefty quickly identified one particular Braves veteran to pattern things after.


“Chris Sale yanks the ball a lot, so he’s over on the mound, and those yanks are becoming more strikes to righties inside,” Kerr said of the starter’s somewhat unorthodox delivery. “I recently moved over on the mound, and that helped me also. Just learning from big league players, learning what not to do and going through experiences, because you can’t become great at something unless you’ve experienced it.”


Kerr had already spent a couple of months with his new teammates during the spring. That helped make this early May call-up a fairly seamless transition and easier to settle in and get to work.


“A great clubhouse helps with finding my routine with this team,” Kerr said. “I’ve put together a good lift program that goes with my mechanics on the mound, so that becomes more natural to me. Just learning how my body works more every day, learning different pitch sequences, learning how to actually get the hitter uncomfortable, learning how to have a good mound presence, and just focusing on what I can control.”

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