SAN FRANCISCO -- After spending two months down in the Minors, Jared Shuster did not draw an easy lot when it came to making his first start back in the big leagues. With the Braves pushing for a three-game road sweep of the Giants in a nationally televised series finale, the pressure was not insignificant.
Though his final line wasn't eye-popping, both Shuster and his skipper agreed that the 25-year-old left-hander took a step forward in Atlanta's 8-5 loss to San Francisco on Sunday evening at Oracle Park.
The Braves' powerful offense was rather dormant until the fifth and sixth innings, when they burst out for five runs, capped by Marcell Ozuna's two-run homer -- his fifth in six games. But they were completely shut down by Giants pitching in the first four frames and the final three. Atlanta is 67-12 when scoring five or more runs.
"[Shuster] kept us in the game," manager Brian Snitker said. "He kind of used his changeup a little more than he had been when he was here before. I thought Travis [d'Arnaud] did a really good job getting him through. So you know, it's kind of what we needed out of him."
The Braves' top prospect entering 2023, Shuster has had a rocky start to his big league career. His ERA ticked up to 5.26 through 10 starts after he allowed four runs on four hits and two walks over 4 2/3 innings, but he showed flashes of promise under the bright lights of Sunday Night Baseball.
Shuster showed some poise after he gave up a pair of two-out runs in his first two innings -- on J.D. Davis' RBI single in the first and Casey Schmitt's solo shot in the second -- but came back with two scoreless frames.
Aside from a first-inning leadoff walk to Austin Slater and the homer by Schmitt, Shuster was pretty satisfied with his outing.
"All three pitches felt good," Shuster said. "I felt like I executed pretty well. Just obviously those couple pitches, I want back. Overall, steps in the right direction."
The rookie southpaw had runners on the corners when he left the game with two outs in the fifth inning, and the game pulled out of the Braves' reach when Collin McHugh entered in relief and allowed both runs to score.
McHugh needed 38 pitches to complete 1 1/3 innings and threw only 19 strikes, issuing a season-high four free passes. He walked his first two batters to force in the game-tying run before surrendering a bases-clearing double to rookie catcher Patrick Bailey that gave the Giants a 6-3 lead through five innings.
"You do whatever you can," McHugh said of making adjustments in the moment. "You mix pitches, you try and change locations, try and do whatever you can to keep the ball in the zone. But they put together some good at-bats. I didn't challenge them in the zone as much as I wanted to, and they took advantage of it."
The Braves don't have a day off on their three-city, 10-game road trip that continues with stops in Denver and Los Angeles. With the bullpen on the hook for at least 3 1/3 innings after Shuster exited in the fifth, and McHugh pitching on five days' rest, Snitker was looking ahead to keep Atlanta's relief arms fresh.
"We've got a rough week ahead of us," Snitker said. "We didn't really want to beat up any of those other guys chasing a win. … Sometimes you got to do your job, and we didn't get it done today."
Entering Sunday, Braves pitchers had a 2.49 ERA in 15 prior games, a reversal from a difficult 23-game stretch in which they struggled to a 5.40 mark. Even after a tough day on the mound, Atlanta still boasts the lowest ERA in the National League and has allowed three or fewer runs in 11 of its past 16 games.
In an ideal world, Shuster will continue to progress and be a big part of the Braves' pitching staff going forward. Snitker said so on Saturday afternoon, giving a vote of confidence in the rookie by saying he expects to see him enjoy a long career in the Majors.
"He's seen plenty of great, great pitchers," Shuster said. "It means the world, and I really appreciate it."