Pesky d'Arnaud sets up Duvall for game-winning knock

April 16th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Braves batters hung tough Friday night against a heralded rookie they had never seen before. Then they broke through against a veteran reliever who was a virtual stranger to them.

Facing right-hander Pierce Johnson for the first time, Adam Duvall lined a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning to lift the Braves to a 5-2 victory at Petco Park. That came immediately after Travis d’Arnaud extended the inning with an eight-pitch at-bat that featured four foul balls.

“For whatever reason, I had a good feeling about that at-bat,” Duvall said.

Like Duvall, d’Arnaud was getting his first look at Johnson. He won the two-out battle with a single through a vacated second base with Austin Riley running on a 2-2 count.

Given a three-run cushion, Kenley Jansen earned his first save with the Braves following 350 over 13 seasons with the Dodgers. Jansen retired the Padres in order in the ninth inning.

The Braves made it as easy as possible for Jansen to pick up that save with their three-run eighth inning. But it was anything but. Consider the challenge d’Arnaud and Duvall faced:

• Their first two at-bats came against heralded lefty MacKenzie Gore in his Major League debut. Gore works the tops and bottoms of the strike zone with 96 mph four-seam fastballs that are complemented by good offspeed options.

• Third time up, d’Arnaud faced Luis García and Duvall drew Robert Suarez -- two righties featuring 98 mph-plus sinkers.

• Then came Johnson, who relies heavily on curves and a 95-96 mph four-seamer.

“Their bullpen’s deep, too,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Every time it swings open, it’s a live arm. There’s a lot of different things to hit against. It’s not easy hitting against all the arms you see, especially coming out of everybody’s bullpen.”

Riley was stationed at first base when d’Arnaud stepped to the plate with two outs. After taking a curve for a ball, d’Arnaud swung at the next five pitches, missing a curve and fouling off three fastballs and one curve. Finally, a fastball was out of the zone to even the count. Then d’Arnaud put a 96 mph four-seamer in play, and Riley advanced to third base.

“I think the d'Arnaud at-bat took a little bit out of him,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said of Johnson.

Duvall, meanwhile, had that good feeling in the on-deck circle. d’Arnaud made sure his teammate would be able to take that good feeling into the batter’s box.

Johnson opened with a fastball to Duvall and threw three straight curveballs before Duvall jumped on a 95.1 mph heater and pulled it to left field. No matter that those were the first five pitches Duvall had ever seen from Johnson.

“He threw me a couple of curveballs, and I thought maybe they might try to sneak one in, a fastball,” Duvall said. “All night, they’d been pounding me with fastballs. …

“That’s the chess match you’ve got to play. Sometimes you guess right, and sometimes you guess wrong. In that instance, I kind of went with my gut there.”

The game was in the hands of the bullpen after Kyle Wright and Gore -- two top-five picks from the 2017 MLB Draft -- dueled to nearly equal terms.

Statistically speaking, Wright did not earn a quality start because he did not go the requisite minimum of six innings. But the right-hander certainly threw quality pitches. Wright struck out nine across five innings while allowing two runs on five hits with no walks (and one hit batter).

In two starts, Wright has a 1.64 ERA. The rest of the rotation? A 7.44 ERA in seven starts. Nonetheless, the Braves can return to .500 with a victory on Saturday.