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Atlanta's Warm Blanket: Travis d'Arnaud Is Providing Security Amid the World Series Chaos

The Braves catcher is tasked with preparing their pitching strategy, even when he has no idea who is going to pitch.

ATLANTA — The Braves’ World Series run thus far has featured a roller coaster of pitching strategy—responding to the loss of ace Charlie Morton, brushing up against a no-hitter, navigating the treacherous waters of rookie-opened bullpen games on back-to-back days. It’s shone a spotlight on the question of how one manages a modern pitching staff. But there’s another wrinkle to that—how does one manage the man who calls all of those complicated games?

Oct 30, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Dylan Lee (74) talks to catcher Travis d'Arnaud (16) prior to game four of the 2021 World Series against the Houston Astros at Truist Park.

Rookie lefthander Dylan Lee and catcher Travis d'Arnaud

Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud has been behind the plate for every inning of the team’s playoff run thus far. He has caught three shutouts—two in the NLDS and one in the World Series—and has also provided a spark as a hitter, going 7-for-20 with two home runs and a double, for a 1.050 OPS. But his most impressive act yet might have been what he was tasked with in Games 4 and 5 of the World Series. After injuries struck the Braves’ starting pitching depth, there was no choice but to do two straight days of bullpen games, ready for almost any pitcher on the staff to jog out to the mound at any time. That can be hugely destabilizing for hitters. But the preparation is no picnic for the catcher, either: d’Arnaud caught 10 different pitchers across Games 4 and 5. (Only one, Chris Martin, appeared on both nights.) The key? A lot of game-planning each day, and a lot of slow, steady work building relationships across the whole season.

“He’s like a warm blanket,” Braves catching coach Sal Fasano says of d’Arnaud. “To me, that’s the greatest relationship you can have—the guys trust you because good, bad or indifferent game, he’ll always sit by you after.”

The game-planning sessions between d’Arnaud, Fasano and a few other members of the coaching staff typically last about an hour each day. (Fasano estimates that 45 minutes is taken up with focused breakdowns of hitters or rundowns of specific potential scenarios. The other quarter hour? “We have fun, too. We have to.”) That’s true whether it’s a bullpen game or there’s a traditional starter. But the texture of the session has to change a bit when they expect a parade of relievers. Beyond the opener—who is announced ahead of time—they don’t know any more about who might pitch than the other team does. Fasano jokes that pitching coach Rick Kranitz keeps him on his toes: “It’s hard,” he says. “I’m always saying, Kranny, who are you bringing in?” And so the game-planning crew must prepare as far as their imagination can reach.

“There’s a lot of us in there that come in there and come up with situations that could possibly come up [in] the game,” d’Arnaud said after Game 3. “There’s a lot of different factors. We try to go over everything, so when it happens in the game, we've already prepped for it.”

What if, for instance, A.J. Minter faces the top of Houston’s lineup? What if Luke Jackson does? What if it’s the middle of the order and there are two men on? What if a reliever who barely saw the major leagues this year is going through the lineup multiple times—like Kyle Wright did in Game 4? Their game-planning crew walks through what d’Arnaud should call for every reasonable hypothetical they can think of.

“I’m not going to say it’s intense, but there is a lot of information thrown out there. It’s, how can we simplify it so he can be able to remember it?” says Fasano. “It’s always how to combine our strengths with the hitters’ weaknesses, if there are any, and if not, you’ve just got to rely on their stuff.”

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Oct 30, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright (30) fist bumps catcher Travis d'Arnaud (16) after right gets out of the fifth inning of game four of the 2021 World Series against the Houston Astros at Truist Park.

Catcher Travis d'Arnaud and righthander Kyle Wright

That, again, holds true no matter the expected structure of the game—a starter or five relievers. But the myriad potential scenarios involved with the heavy bullpen usage of the modern postseason add an extra layer of detail. It leaves d’Arnaud with knowledge of the opposition that stands out to other position players, too.

“Travis is a student of the game,” Braves outfielder Eddie Rosario said through an interpreter. “He studies every hitter and knows how he wants to attack them. He does a great job.”

These detailed plans of attack are important. But they’re not the foundation of the catcher’s job. That’s his relationship with his pitchers, and that’s an area where d’Arnaud excels, too. He’s “never been a big rah-rah guy,” Fasano says. Instead, he works on his connections with the staff more quietly, always making himself available to his pitchers if they need him and being “really good behind the scenes.” That’s generally paid off. Just ask Braves starter Ian Anderson—he of the 1.26 postseason ERA—about the key to his playoff success.

“I think you’ve got to look to my right here,” Anderson said after Game 3, gesturing to d’Arnaud, seated beside him. “He’s caught every single one of my postseason outings. We’ve had a good game plan going in. I think for the most part we’ve been able to execute. … He stuck with some of the pitches that I was spiking up there or didn't quite have a feel for. We were able to make some big-time pitches when it mattered.”

d'Arnaud, 32, is in his second season in Atlanta; after starting his career with six seasons with the Mets, he briefly bounced from the Dodgers to the Rays before landing as a free agent with the Braves. But he seems to have found a home here for now. He signed an extension that will keep him with the team through 2024. “I love this city,” d’Arnaud declared earlier in the series. “I’m so thankful that I even had an opportunity to come here.” As for the pitchers he works with? “My pitching staff is full of studs.”

The feeling, it seems, is mutual.

“Those guys, they have some kind of trust in Travis, and Travis has the same kind of trust in them,” Fasano says. “It works both ways.”

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