MILWAUKEE — Mike Buchter is a New Jersey guy. South Jersey, just across the river from Philadelphia. Owns a janitorial company, been a fan of Philly sports teams all his life.
But these days, his allegiance has veered to the Braves. He gets asked a lot about the Braves cap he’s wearing around town or the Braves jacket he wore while clearing snow off his driveway this winter.
Not that he has minded answering every time he was asked. He loved it, actually. His son Ryan was a Braves minor league relief pitcher, he’d tell them. Only now he can’t tell them that anymore. Because Ryan Buchter is a major-leaguer now. Suiting up for his first game could be considered Ryan’s gift on his father’s birthday.
“My fiancée texted him this morning and said, ‘Happy birthday, you couldn’t have a better one,’” Ryan said, smiling in the visitor’s clubhouse Monday morning at Miller Park.
Buchter, 27, officially became a major-leaguer when he was chosen for the 25-man opening day roster, only five days after the big left-hander had been sent to Triple-A. When reliever Cory Gearrin injured his elbow last week, it opened a spot for Buchter.
“The past couple of days have been a roller coaster,” he said. “You’re going down (to the minors) and getting acclimated down there. … You’re kind of bummed out for a couple of days. And you still have to keep a clear head while you’re down there, because like everybody kept saying, you never know what’s going to happen.”
When Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez went to a minor-league intrasquad game Thursday to see a couple of Braves pitchers on the team’s last day in Florida, he chatted briefly with Buchter. Gearrin had left a game two days earlier with an elbow injury that may require surgery.
“Fredi was down to see (Alex Wood) and Gus (Schlosser) throw and he just said, ‘You never know what’s going to happen.’ Just kind of threw it out there,” Butcher said. “And then a day later, I was driving up to Atlanta.”
Buchter spent eight seasons in the minors with the Nationals, Cubs and Braves organizations without ever getting a major-league call-up. He was added to the Braves’ 40-man roster over the winter, after posted a 2.76 ERA with 103 strikeouts (and 51 walks) in 62 relief innings at Triple-A Gwinnett.
He had 12 strikeouts and six walks in 8 2/3 innings this spring, allowing seven hits and five runs in 10 appearances. But he also made progress during camp.
“I worked with (the pitching coaches), not even on mechanics. Just mindset and a lot of things, speeding up my tempo and just trying not to think so much,” he said. “… That’s kind of when I turned the corner in camp, when I started throwing more strikes because I was picking up (the pace).”
Buchter and fellow relievers Schlosser and lefty Ian Thomas all had their first day in the majors, the only three on the Braves’ 25-man roster to have never suited up for a major league opening day.
Thomas made his debut and faced two batters, throwing six strikes in seven pitches and giving up a hit.
They’re part of an eight-man bullpen the Braves are using until they add starter Ervin Santana, probably on April 12, at which point the team will revert to its usual five starters and seven relievers.
Gonzalez said closer Craig Kimbrel already told him the veteran relievers planned to purchase two more Little Pink Pony backpacks so all three rookies would have one to wear to the bullpen before each game. That’s become a Braves bullpen tradition, making a rookie reliever wear the little children’s accessory.