Swanson finds stroke, but Braves fall in extras

Morton, Matzek stumble as tough opening month continues for defending champs

April 28th, 2022

ATLANTA – Well, April certainly hasn’t been as pleasant as the most recent October. As this season’s first month nears its end, the Braves can only hope the next few weeks and months prove to be much more fruitful.

Dansby Swanson halted his season-long woes with a big game-tying hit. But his two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning wasn’t enough to overcome the frustrations Charlie Morton and Tyler Matzek endured in a 6-3, 10-inning loss to the Cubs at Truist Park on Wednesday night.

Morton needed 70 pitches to record seven outs, but Swanson’s two-out single in the eighth erased the Braves’ early deficit. It also set the stage for Matzek to uncharacteristically allow three hits in the 10th inning, including Willson Contreras’ leadoff double and Patrick Wisdom’s two-run homer.

Here are three takeaways from the extra-inning loss:

Morton’s frustrations
Morton has posted a 7.00 ERA through his first four starts, the ugliest of which was his most recent. One of the 38-year-old hurler’s seven outs came courtesy of Rafael Ortega’s unsuccessful stolen-base attempt during a 26-pitch first inning. Morton also issued four walks and surrendered four hits. He was fortunate to allow just three runs.

Asked whether he saw any improvement after Morton had spent the past week attempting to find his rhythm during side sessions, Braves manager Brian Snitker said, “Honestly, not really.” The veteran skipper also described his experienced hurler as “being out of whack a little bit.”

“I feel like where I’m at, I’m just letting the team down,” Morton said.

The Cubs whiffed with just three of 26 swings taken against Morton. Going back to his 2008 rookie season, this marked just the 13th time Morton induced three whiffs or fewer against at least 25 swings in a game. He had produced a 22.8 percent whiff rate through his first three starts. That’s down from the 28.9 percent whiff rate he constructed last year. 

Morton turned things around after struggling during the early stages of both of the past two years. He had a 4.50 ERA through his first 13 starts last season and a 2.71 ERA over his other 20 regular-season starts. 

“Looking back [at last year’s first month and a half], I didn’t pitch well,” Morton said. “But there was a lot of weak contact, and there was still a lot of swing and miss. Now, there isn’t. Being honest with myself, I’ve had to mix a lot more. I’ve had to mix in my cutter and changeup just to get guys off my primary pitches, and the results still aren’t where they want them.”

One of those nights
Matzek became a cult hero with his postseason dominance last year and he entered Wednesday’s 10th inning having allowed just one hit in 6 2/3 innings this year. But with a runner on second to begin the inning, the lefty reliever immediately found himself facing a deficit. Contreras began the inning with a double and Wisdom homered against a center-cut 93.8 mph fastball.

Matzek’s fastball touched 95.9 mph and averaged 94.3 mph during his outing. He averaged 96 mph with the pitch last year, but he had averaged 94.9 mph with it during his previous six appearances this season.

Much-needed boost
Swanson added yet another clutch contribution to his portfolio when he produced a game-tying, two-run single with two outs in the eighth inning. This one hit might be what he needed to get out of the rut that had dropped his batting average to .175 before that plate appearance.

Swanson beat the shift by slapping the ball through the right side of the infield. As he made a chopping motion with his right arm while looking toward the Braves’ dugout, the shortstop seemed to release three weeks' worth of frustration.

“Things like that are things that can springboard guys,” Snitker said. “He’d been struggling a little bit. You have a great at-bat and get a great outcome like that, that could be really big for him.”