Smyly deals, earns birthday win in Miami

June 13th, 2021

Even though it was his birthday, veteran lefty Drew Smyly gifted the Braves with an impressive performance to lead the Braves to a 6-4 victory over the Marlins on Sunday at loanDepot park to end the three-game set.

“He was driving the ball today. I mean, it was really good,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker. “The curveball was probably as good as it's been all year. ... But he was driving his fastball down on his own, too. I thought it was good, we kind of ran into trouble in the fifth and ate up all those pitches. Overall, it is really encouraging.”

This is the second time in his career that he has made a start on his birthday. The first came in 2014 when Smyly, then with Detroit, allowed one run and four hits in six innings against the Twins. Smyly is the third Braves pitcher this season to pitch on their birthday, following Ian Anderson (May 2) and Chris Martin (June 2).

In the top of the first, the Braves got off to an early start with a leadoff single by Ronald Acuña Jr. Freddie Freeman followed it up with his seventh double of the season to put runners in scoring position, just in time for Austin Riley to hit a two-run single to give the Braves an early 2-0 lead.

“I mean, any time you get quick runs on the board as a starting pitcher, it's a relief, you know? You're able to just go out there and attack and throw strikes,” said Smyly. 

Following the Braves’ high-energy first inning, Smyly added to the momentum by retiring the side, including strikeouts of Miami's stars Jazz Chisholm Jr. and Jesús Aguilar. Smyly had that same pop from 2014 on Sunday and kept batters guessing as he commanded the strike zone, throwing 64 of his 91 pitches for strikes.

“I thought I was driving the ball well today and mixing speeds really well, and then my cutter over the last two, three, four games -- it's starting to get better and that helps ... keep the hitters off balance more,” said Smyly. 

Over the past few games, the Braves’ offense has struggled, with some of their hottest hitters going down quietly. However, in the top of the third, Riley snapped out of his slump with a homer over the right-field wall – his 12th of the year. He is now tied with Nolan Arenado and Justin Turner for the most by an NL third baseman.

“It was just one of those things where it's a minor adjustment. Like I said, it's frustrating but at the same time, you know it's gonna happen,” said Riley. “I think ... learning how to deal with that is the biggest thing. Not hitting the panic button, staying even keel -- watching [Freeman], the way he goes about his business, has been a lot of help.”

Riley finished the game going 3-for-3 with a walk and three RBIs, snapping a hitless streak of 17 at-bats.

Following Riley’s home run, Smyly kept the Marlins at bay. He finished the outing allowing two runs on six hits while allowing one walk and striking out six over five innings.

In the bottom of the fifth, Acuña left the game as a precaution due to right pectoral tightness. He was replaced by Ender Inciarte, who played alongside Abraham Almonte and Guillermo Heredia in center field. In his first at-bat of the game, Inciarte hit his first home run of the year over the right-field wall to give the Braves a four-run lead. This was Inciarte’s first home run since Aug. 28, 2020, against the Phillies.

“He said, ‘If I'm gonna fill in for Acuña, then I got to do that,’” said Snitker. “Ender’s been great. Ender’s another [guy] that's matured a lot, and he realizes his role on the team. He's continued to stay ready, and I again applaud him for that, too, because that's not an easy job.” 

Although the Braves were victorious in the finale, they dropped the three-game set in Miami. This is the Braves’ first series loss against the Marlins since 2017, when Miami won three of four games. Since that series, the Braves have dominated the matchup in Miami, going 16-6 since. Although the Braves have taken the season win against the Marlins every year since 2015, the Braves are in danger of losing that control, as the Marlins have won five of seven matchups this season.  

“Just trying to get that momentum. You know, this game’s a lot about getting that momentum [going] and maintaining it. I felt like we did that throughout the game,” said Riley. “With the day off tomorrow, sit on the win and getting that confidence going to the homestand is huge.”