Braves unable to contain Nats' bats in Game 1
WASHINGTON -- Wanting to extend their recent success and subdue the sleeping giant within their division, the Braves instead exited the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader at Nationals Park feeling a little less comfortable about the pitching depth they will need to survive their most grueling stretch of the season.
Four innings into their 8-3 loss to the Nationals, the Braves had already distanced themselves from the elation felt while winning six of their previous seven games. Max Fried lasted just two innings because of an injury and Kolby Allard's two-inning relief stint only increased reason to wonder whether he is ready to compete at the big league level.
Adding to the frustration, the Braves managed just one run and three hits over five innings against Jefry Rodriguez, who had produced a 9.64 ERA in his previous three career starts.
"This wasn't the ideal way we drew it up," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "But we're going to play the games and we're going to keep grinding and getting after it and get after it to win the second game."
While the matchup against Max Scherzer in the nightcap stands as the immediate challenge, the Braves' more daunting task is finding enough pitching to endure their current stretch of playing 48 games within 48 days.
Mike Soroka is expected to miss the rest of the season and Brandon McCarthy's return is questionable. Luiz Gohara has been dealing with left shoulder discomfort and Allard has shown he needs more time at the Triple-A level. As for Fried, he is now back on the disabled list with a left groin strain he suffered while attempting to avoid the 104.4-mph Spencer Kieboom liner that dented his lower back at the end of the second inning.
"I put these guys in a harder position than we're already in," Fried said. "It's going to be a long end to the season. I was just trying to do my part to get through it and help us get to the playoffs. It's just really frustrating."
Fried grabbed Kieboom's liner off the grass, fired to first for the inning's final out and then went to the dugout. As soon as he mentioned he had tweaked his groin, Snitker decided to go to Allard, who had been promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett to serve as the 26th man for the doubleheader. Allard got through the third unscathed with the help of a wacky play that resulted in Juan Soto being called out for passing Trea Turner on the basepaths. But the 21-year-old former first-round pick allowed Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman to begin a four-run fourth inning with back-to-back home runs.
Rodriguez added to Allard's misery when he notched his first career hit -- a two-out double that set the stage for Turner and Soto to deliver consecutive RBI singles.
"I just need to execute more consistently," Allard said. "I make some good pitches and then there are too many bad ones mixed in there. The margin for error is less up here. I'm going to go back there and get things rolling again."
Though the Braves needed to preserve their pitching for the remainder of the day, Snitker needed just two innings to see enough of Allard, who allowed seven hits and four runs. The young southpaw had allowed nine hits and five runs (four earned) over just five innings vs. the Marlins in his Major League debut July 31.
Allard's stock has dropped, but MLB Pipeline still ranks him as the Braves' eighth-best prospect and baseball's 90th-best prospect. But he has not looked MLB ready, as his fastball has hovered around 90 mph and his curveball has been inconsistent.
"It's command of all your pitches with these young guys," Snitker said. "I'm sure it was better in Triple-A. This is a different animal. When you miss your location, these guys are going to make you pay. It happened today."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Nats quash Braves' rally designs: When Ozzie Albies doubled and scored on Nick Markakis' RBI single in the sixth, the Braves cut the deficit to 4-2. But hopes of a comeback quickly faded as Shane Carle opened the bottom half of the inning with consecutive walks and then allowed the Nationals to cap another four-run frame with Zimmerman's two-run double.
"I looked up in a 4-2 game and thought with another big inning we'd be OK," Snitker said. "With at-bats left, you've got a chance. We just couldn't put them away the one inning."
Because the Braves were planning to creatively construct a six-man rotation over the remainder of this month, there will be some flexibility as they plan for this week. Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran are lined up to pitch with an extra day of rest during the first two games of this weekend's series against the Brewers. Sean Newcomb could pitch Sunday on regular rest. Or the club could opt to promote Touki Toussaint.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
An odd sequence of events led to a much-needed out for Allard in the third inning. Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte raced to his left, got a glove on Soto's long drive and then saw the ball carom into hustling left fielder Adam Duvall's glove. Initially, it looked like an incredible defensive play. But the ball hit the outfield wall before reaching Duvall. When Turner raced back to first base thinking he needed to tag up, he passed Soto, resulting in an out.
"That was a lot going on," Snikter said. "My first inclination was, 'Did he pass him?' And if he did it before we tagged him out. I think we got everything right as far as where everybody was supposed to be." More >
Newcomb will take the hill in Game 2 of a day-night doubleheader in Washington at 7:05 p.m. ET. It's his first start since a near no-hitter vs. the Dodgers last Sunday, when he threw a career-high 134 pitches in 8 2/3 innings and allowed just one hit -- a two-out grounder in the 9th. He will be pitching on two extra days of rest. Scherzer will get the ball for the Nationals.