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Raisel Iglesias Gives Braves Bullpen Long-Term Closer Answer

Raisel Iglesias figures to be Atlanta’s closer for years.

Lost in the headlines of Jacob deGrom’s near-perfect Sunday afternoon for  the Mets against the Atlanta Braves was the second appearance of the newest Brave, Raisel Iglesias.

The Cuban right-hander, obtained from the Angels for Jesse Chavez and Tucker Davidson in the last deal made before the clock struck 12 at the Aug. 2 trade deadline, worked a single scoreless inning. But he reminded shrewd observers that he could make a major difference to his team’s dwindling division title hopes and postseason chances.

He and fellow Latino Kenley Jansen, who hails from Curacao, are the only two relievers in the majors with at least 30 saves in each of the last four seasons. And now they’re teammates.

Iglesias, 32, leads the majors with 37 saves of four-plus outs since the beginning of the 2017 season, when he was still with his original team, the Cincinnati Reds.

Since that 2017 campaign, he ranks third in the big leagues with 134 saves, trailing only Jansen and Mets closer Edwin Diaz.

The Braves have been trying to land Iglesias for years but lost out to Los Angeles during the off-season free agent market, which was limited by the 99-day lockout of players by owners. In 39 outings for the Angels, the 6-2, 190-pound pitcher had a 2-6 record and 4.04 ERA but had been a victim of hard luck. Atlanta envisions him regaining his 34-save form of 2021, when he was named to the All-MLB Second Team at season’s end.

With Jansen on a one-year, $17 million contract, the Braves are positioning Iglesias as their next closer. He had signed a four-year, $58 million extension with the Angels earlier this year so was surprised to be traded — but glad he went to a contender.

Jansen, on the other hand, picked the Braves after a 12-year tenure with the Dodgers ended in free agency. He currently owns a 2.44 lifetime earned run average, behind only Walter Johnson,

Kenley Jansen, now Atlanta’s closer, spent 12 years with L.A.

Mariano Rivera, and Billy Wagner among pitchers with so many appearances.

Slowed by heart problems for the second time in his career, the 6-5, 265 pound righty is reliable when he’s right. But he’s occasionally prone to streaks of wildness and occasional home run balls.

Jansen’s 374 career saves trail only Craig Kimbrel of the Dodgers among active pitchers. He’s not only 10th on the all-time saves list but a three-time All-Star and two-time recipient of the Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year Award. Jansen also has 19 post-season saves — a stat that makes him especially valuable to a team trying to defend a world championship.

Once a catcher for Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, Jansen switched positions after the Dodgers, his original team, determined his arm was too good not be pitching.

The 34-year-old Jansen has at least 20 saves in 10 different seasons, including this one. He currently has 24 saves in 28 chances.

Both Iglesias and Jansen could soon have competition for the closer’s job in Atlanta. Kirby Yates, recuperated from Tommy John elbow surgery, is pitching well on a rehab assignment on Triple-A Gwinnett and should be ready for recall some this week. The former San Diego standout had 41 saves and a microscopic 1.19 earned run average in 2019, his last uninterrupted season.

Yates, like Kimbrel, is a compact right-hander with remarkable heat for his size. He stands only 5’10” tall.

Manager Brian Snitker likes the idea of rotating closers, especially since he can use some of them as set-up men ideal for mix-and-match situations. He also has lots of lefty power, with A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek, and Dylan Lee available from the left side. The Braves had a fourth lefty, Will Smith, before trading him to Houston last week for veteran right-handed starter Jake Odorizzi.

With Ian Anderson unable to throw strikes this season, Odorizzi will take his rotation spot while the erstwhile post-season hero tries to recapture his old form in Triple-A.

The Braves lost four of five in Flushing, leaving them with their first three-game losing streak of the season, but still have seven games left against the Mets. They also have a 6 1/2 game deficit in a National League East race they hope to win for the fifth straight season.

Atlanta will get a key man back later this month when star second baseman Ozzie Albies, like Jansen a Curacao native, returns from a foot fracture that needed surgical repair. Another key hitter, left-fielder Adam Duvall, is out for the year with a broken wrist.

The Braves begin a two-game interleague series against the Boston Red Sox Tuesday night at Fenway Park. They won’t face any pitchers comparable to deGrom or Max Scherzer, who beat them in consecutive games.


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