All good things — and the Atlanta Braves winning four in a row after losing their first nine was a very good thing — must come to an end, and the streak reached cessation Wednesday. The Braves lost 5-3 to the Dodgers in 10 innings in a game the home side led 3-0. You’ll be shocked to learn that the bullpen was again culpable. Or maybe you won’t.
We cut to the the chase: I have no problem with Fredi Gonzalez pulling Julio Teheran after 5 1/3 innings and 75 pitches. Teheran had missed his regular turn Tuesday due to illness and didn’t have much, stuff-wise. (Of those 75 pitches, only five topped 90 mph.) In a two-run game with a man aboard, Adrian Gonzalez — who was 4-for-14 lifetime against Teheran with a home run and four RBIs — was due up. It made sense to bring a lefty to face the lefty.
At issue is whether it makes sense to summon Eric O’Flaherty to face anybody. Already this season he has yielded game-losing doubles to Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper, both left-handed hitters. (Also a game-losing homer to Aledmys Diaz, a righty.) On cue, A. Gonzalez lofted O’Flaherty’s second pitch — a fastball down and in but mostly fat — over the wall in right-center. That was O’Flaherty’s last pitch of the night. It might be his last as a Brave.
The Braves love O’Flaherty as a guy and a clubhouse presence, but he cannot be trusted even in the sixth inning of a close game. Trouble was, the only left-handed alternative was Hunter Cervenka, who’s a rookie. As much as we might fault Fredi G.’s odd deployment of his relievers, we must stipulate: Apart from Arodys Vizcaino, this is a motley crew.
The Braves, who mustered eight runs against Alex Wood and others a night earlier, stopped scoring/hitting after the fourth. They managed two baserunners — an A.J. Pierzynski single and a Nick Markakis walk — over the final six innings. Neither runner reached second base.
Fredi G. eschewed a Kelly Johnson sac bunt after Pierzynski’s leadoff single in the eight, saying afterward that you had to look at who was waiting beyond Johnson — meaning Erick Aybar, who entered the game batting .125, and Jace Peterson, who started in left field and entered batting .222. (Both had hits against Dodgers starter Ross Stripling.) Johnson lined to center for the first out. Aybar and Peterson hit fly balls, also to center. So much for manufacturing a run.
We move to further action: Tenth inning, top of the Dodgers lineup awaiting. Vizcaino had been literally unhittable in the ninth — he issued a walk and struck out the side — while throwing 18 pitches. I’ve become an advocate of the multi-inning save, but the Braves weren’t ahead. (If they were, the game would have been over.) This would have been a multi-inning hold: There’s no great percentage in that. Again, I have no issue will pulling Viz, as he’s known, after one inning this night.
In came Jason Grilli, the erstwhile closer who has blown two saves. (The Braves are last in baseball with five.) Even as we concede that it’s unrealistic to expect a 39-year-old coming off a torn Achilles to be in the prime of his professional life, we must note the obvious: Grilli has been better than O’Flaherty but only just.
Chase Utley led off with a hard single to right. The 37-year-old stole second on the first pitch. (Grilli paid him no heed.) Corey Seager walked. Justin Turner lofted a liner into the gap in left-center. It appeared the fleet rookie Mallex Smith would run it down, and he got the running part right. He just couldn’t hold the ball when he hit the ground after diving. To make matters ridiculously worse, the ball skittered away from him and he fell while trying to chase it. Utley scored the winning run.
(Also of note: Remember that part about Peterson playing left field? He still was. He’s a second baseman by trade.)
It was only after the game that reporters were informed that, after managerial review, M. Smith hadn’t gotten the running right. Fredi G. said the center fielder had broken back, as opposed to charging inward and to his right, on the ball. “We can fix that,” the manager said. “I can live with a young guy’s mistakes.” (For his part, Smith said he’d taken “a pre-drop step.” Still, he thought he’d catch the ball.)
Lessons learned on the night? Nothing much new. The Braves can’t hit — Freddie Freeman went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts; the team has three homers, none since April 10, on the season — and their bullpen, save for Viz, remains a calamity. But the part about a manager taking pains to underscore a rookie’s misstep? That was different, and not overly becoming.
Further reading (much of it about Fredi G.):