CINCINNATI -- Jesse Chavez rejoined the Braves exactly where he left them 11 years ago, and Sean Newcomb came out of nowhere to halt his trying week in impressive fashion.
But instead of celebrating Chavez’s return and Newcomb’s rebound, the Braves slumbered offensively and saw their bullpen game crumble with the two-run homer Nick Castellanos hit in the seventh inning of a 5-3 Reds win on Thursday night at Great American Ball Park.
“We stayed right there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We gave ourselves a chance.”
Whether the Braves will have a chance to win a fourth consecutive National League East title will be determined by whether they prove to be a much more productive and consistent team over the rest of the season. Seventy-four games in, they’ve yet to produce a winning record or look like a legit postseason contender.
From an offensive perspective, Ronald Acuña Jr.’s absence has been felt as he’s missed the past two games with back soreness. But even when Acuña returns, the Braves are still having to deal with the lineup holes created by the long-term absences of Travis d’Arnaud, Marcell Ozuna and the not-yet-found reliable center fielder.
Think about this. The Braves have won just three of their past seven games. Two of those wins have been 1-0 victories decided by an Acuña homer. There’s reason to be concerned about this offense, which received solo homers from Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies and then squandered a bases-loaded eighth-inning threat on Thursday.
Adding to the frustration of this latest loss was the fact that backup catcher Kevan Smith stranded six runners on base. Smith did draw a walk to help create the bases-loaded threat ended by Pablo Sandoval’s lineout, but he also had to bear some of the blame for a wild pitch being charged to four different Atlanta pitchers.
“I’m not going to blame us losing the game on that,” Snitker said. “I didn’t leave the field with anything like that in my mind.”
The Reds’ first-inning run came after Jonathan India doubled and advanced to third when Smith couldn’t handle Chavez’s 84 mph slider that was just off the plate. India scored on Castellanos’ sacrifice fly.
Luke Jackson’s 97 mph fastball that made its way to the screen in the seventh inning was a little harder to handle. Smith’s inability to keep the pitch in front of him allowed India to reach third. More importantly, the errant pitch seemed to affect Jackson, who proceeded to allow three straight hits, including Castellanos’ homer.
How odd was it to see Jackson allow three straight hits? He had not allowed three hits in any of his previous 30 appearances this year. In fact, he had allowed as many as two hits in just one of those outings. But it wasn’t all bad for the much-maligned bullpen. Newcomb kept the Braves in it with two scoreless innings. The lefty had retired just four of the 10 batters he had faced dating back to Sunday.
“We needed him to go two innings,” Snitker said. “He did a great job. It got us to the guys we wanted to get to late in the game.”
As the Braves look to fix their bullpen, they can now take a chance on Chavez and Tanner Roark, a pair of seasoned veterans who were promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday.
“They’ve been doing it long enough [that] no situation is going to bother them,” Snitker said.
Chavez assumed the role as an opener and allowed two runs over 2 1/3 innings. The 37-year-old right-hander was promoted from Triple-A Gwinnett to make his first appearance for the Braves since July 30, 2010. Coincidentally, he came out of the ‘pen to get the win for Atlanta that night in Cincinnati. He and Gregor Blanco were traded to the Royals for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth the next day.
So, Chavez’s previous tenure with the Braves ended about a month before Freeman made his MLB debut. His return had him reminiscing about how much he benefited from being around Tim Hudson, Peter Moylan, Eric O’Flaherty, Brian McCann, David Ross, Bobby Cox, Roger McDowell and so many other great leaders from the 2010 Atlanta club.
“I can't express what those guys meant to me to instill in me what I needed to still be around to this day,” Chavez said.