Braves plan to be without OF Soler in NL Championship Series

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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Braves are preparing to play without outfielder Jorge Soler in the NL Championship Series as they await his clearance following his positive COVID-19 test.

The Braves worked out Thursday at Truist Park without Soler, who was pulled from the lineup for Game 4 of the NL Division Series against Milwaukee on Tuesday. Dansby Swanson replaced Soler as the leadoff hitter, Guillermo Heredia moved into the lineup in center field and Cristian Pache took Soler’s spot on the 26-man roster.

Playing with the adjusted lineup, the Braves beat the Brewers 5-4 to clinch the best-of-five division series.

Braves manager Brian Snitker would like to have Soler's power bat on his roster for the Championship Series. Soler hit a combined .223 with 27 homers and 70 RBIs with Kansas City and Atlanta during the regular season.

“We want everybody there,” Snitker said when asked about Soler, adding he “hated that he had to miss that” clinching game against the Brewers.

“I don’t know that this team has been dependent, as we’ve shown, on one guy all year, quite honestly. The guys keep playing the game. Would you like to have him? Yeah. If we don’t, so be it. Just go out and win however else we can."

Soler has not been vaccinated but may not be cleared to return until after the best-of-seven NLCS. Snitker said he has not talked with Soler.

“We’ve got to approach it like I don’t know if he’ll be here for the NLCS,” Snitker said. “That’s how we have to approach it. Until he shows up and is cleared and does everything that MLB needs him to do, we’re going to look like it's like he’s not going to be here.”

Soler was part of the dramatic outfield makeover orchestrated by general manager Alex Anthopoulos after the Braves lost Ronald Acuña Jr. to a season-ending knee injury and Marcell Ozuna to legal troubles.

Anthopoulos first acquired Joc Pederson and then added Soler, Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall near the July 30 trade deadline.

The outfield depth created by the moves becomes even more important with Soler's status uncertain as the Braves try to return to the World Series for the first time since 1999.

“I think when we got Joc the clubhouse was like ‘we’re not going to sit around and wait,’” Snitker said. “Alex is on the move. He was striking fast and when he did that — the next wave of guys at the deadline — it showed our guys we were seriously in this thing. I think it did the world of good for that room in there.”

The Braves may stick with their three-man rotation of Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson. Morton pitched on short rest on Tuesday, allowing two runs in 3 1/3 innings. Fried is the probable Game 1 starter in the NLCS.

Huascar Ynoa and Drew Smyly, who were part of the regular-season rotation, were in the bullpen in the division series and seem likely to be available again in relief. They could be used as part of a bullpen approach in Game 4.

“It will probably line up where we’ll probably have a bullpen game, but you know, that being said, in this series we had two starters in our bullpen,” Snitker said. “We’ll be fine.”

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