A drop and a bullpen flop put a stop to the Braves’ winning streak

Atlanta Braves center fielder Mallex Smith (17) can't reach a ball hit for an RBI double by Los Angeles Dodgers' Justin Turner in the 10th inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Atlanta. The Dodgers won 5-3 in 10 innings. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

After a pre-drop step, Mallex Smith drops the ball. (John Bazemore/AP photo)

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.):

Progress! The Braves are giving us moments.

Fredi G. and the four-out save: It’s getting weird, folks.

Fredi is managing as if he wants to be fired.

At 0-7, the Fredi Gonzalez Watch is officially on.

A word to Braves fans: Don’t get discouraged.

Trust the process? The Braves absolutely do.

These Braves weren’t built to win. Good thing, seeing that they’re 0-5.

Reader Comments 0


And you were surprised at who was called in to relieve? Interesting, in view of history,  that a bad substitution choice by Fredi surprised you.  Hopefully, you will not be surprised when it happens again. 

How many times did Fredi send BJ Upton up to the plate in the 8th and 9th innings with runners in scoring position, in games that the Braves (who were contenders at the time) still could have won? It was lots and lots of times. Fredi must have just liked watching BJ do his left foot samba routine while dancing around in the batters box waiting for pitches.  

What other reason could there have been? Because, as the manager of the Braves, how could Fredi have been the only person in the entire stadium, watching at home on TV, or listening to the game on the radio who did not know that BJ was going to strike out (again)? 


Was not a fan at all of Fredi calling out Mallex Smith. That was bush league. 


So ,Mark what you are saying is fire Fredi and this team will win more games? Who is responsible for Jace Peterson playing LF ,Fredi or Hector who is on paid leave for being charged with assault and battery of a woman?  The Braves have as you say,have  one reliable arm in the bullpen,can Viz get 5 outs every night? Again this is Fredi's fault because Coppy and the Front Office did such a great job building a bullpen with only one reliable arm (Viz).

So you don't like Fredi's honesty about his rookie CF misstep on Turner's bloop hit, so he should have said "Mallex made a great effort and came up a little bit short of a great catch" and you all in the press think I am a moron for having Jace Peterson in LF.Again why is Peterson in LF ? , actually two reasons Hector is on paid leave and Ender is on the DL. 

And on to the Offense , the Cornerstone of the lineup Freddie is hitting less than his weight and has one HR .His offensive upgrade at  SS Aybar  (at least that is what Coppy said) is hitting less than Freddie. Rookie in CF hitting sub .200 because his leadoff hitter (Ender)came up lame a week into the season. 2b Peterson has hit poorly enough to become the LH batting platoon LF. At least Fredi has three hitters in his lineup that have hit above their weight Markakis in RF, Garcia at 3B and Flowers behind the plate. 

Defensively , well your veteran catcher may have cost Fredi two wins by dropping a throw home in the season opener and waving at a throw home later in the series. Your offensive minded SS has been just offensive in the field .

Well at least the Pitching rotation is giving Fredi his money's worth, five man rotation coming in at less than $9 million ( Coppy can sure pinch pennies when it comes to building a roster).

Again Mark,I am not so much defending Fredi, If I was GM he would have been gone already, But this years team is hardly a test of Fredi's "Strategic Prowess "managing a game.The Braves ownership has written 2016 off on their spreadsheet as a loss and the team is living up to their bosses expectations. 

Mark , I would only be worried about Fredi ,if Coppy offers him a contract extension . Fredi is likely coaching third base elsewhere in 2017.


Ok, another entry in what has become a transparent sustained media attack on Fredi, as if he's the culprit for the team's horrible performance. They want to know why they are losing money? They need to watch the team play instead of chumming with the big-wigs at the Masters or laughing it up in the Board Room or on the golf course.


Maybe the Braves should hire Ludicris" to sing and soil condoms one night?


Fredi is so so caught up in this lefty/righty thing. Flowers and Franceour are a combined 6-for-7 on Tuesday, so naturally neither one is playing Wednesday. 


Freeman had 4 strikeouts and a broken bat ground out to the pitcher. Pay attention.

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Ankit Kumar

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