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Bullpen crumbles after Foltynewicz's 2019 debut

Minter unable to get final out as Rockies erupt for five runs
@mlbbowman
April 27, 2019

ATLANTA -- As some Braves fans were chanting, “We want Kimbrel,” on Saturday night near the end of a 9-5 loss to the Rockies at SunTrust Park, A.J. Minter was unable to hide the raw frustration felt when he was unable to escape what became a disastrous ninth inning. “I

ATLANTA -- As some Braves fans were chanting, “We want Kimbrel,” on Saturday night near the end of a 9-5 loss to the Rockies at SunTrust Park, A.J. Minter was unable to hide the raw frustration felt when he was unable to escape what became a disastrous ninth inning.

“I was one pitch away from closing the ballgame and being the hero,” Minter said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

This had the makings to be one of those rare nights when the much-maligned Braves bullpen was celebrated. After Mike Foltynewicz got in trouble during the seventh inning of his season debut, the suddenly dependable Luke Jackson worked two scoreless innings and handed a one-run lead to Minter in the ninth inning.

David Dahl led off with a double, but Minter followed with consecutive strikeouts. The final out proved elusive.

“I believe in myself. That’s all I care about,” Minter said when asked about the difficulty of recording the final out of a ballgame.

With Arodys Vizcaino recovering from season-ending shoulder surgery and Craig Kimbrel providing no indication he’s close to signing with any team, the Braves have little choice but to continue believing in Minter, who can thank the Rockies for handing him the two most painful blown saves of his young career.

This marked the first time Minter had faced the Rockies in Atlanta since Aug. 18, when he allowed three runs after retiring the first two batters of the ninth inning. His latest blown save evolved differently, but it created the same pain when Charlie Blackmon laced a first-pitch fastball down the right-field line for a go-ahead, two-run double.

“I knew he was going to be aggressive with the first pitch,” Minter said. “The ball was supposed to be outside. I believe I missed over the middle of the plate.”

Minter might have escaped unscathed had he made this same mistake of finding the middle of the plate with any of the pitches he threw to Drew Butera, a 35-year-old backup catcher with a .201 career batting average.

With Dahl on third base and two outs, Minter was wisely careful with his approach to Ian Desmond, who drew a six-pitch walk when a 3-2 fastball just missed low and away. Given Blackmon was on deck, there was no way to defend the four-pitch walk issued to Butera.

“I didn’t mind him walking Desmond,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I didn’t want him giving in to him, but you can’t walk the next guy.”

After Blackmon followed with his two-run double, Trevor Story greeted former Minor League teammate Dan Winkler by drilling a 0-2 curveball deep over the left-field wall. The 429-foot shot provided a comfortable lead for the Rockies, who trailed 5-2 in the fifth inning.

“I think that is the first 0-2 homer I’ve given up in my career,” Winkler said. “Obviously, I’d like to have bounced that one and maybe come back with another one. Credit to him. Tomorrow is a new day. I’ll be ready again.”

Since surrendering Rhys Hoskins’ grand slam on Opening Day, Jackson has worked 11 consecutive scoreless appearances (12 1/3 innings). The right-hander, who was deemed a questionable addition to the Opening Day roster, has stood as the only reliable asset within a Braves’ bullpen that has produced a 4.74 ERA through 26 games, 23rd in the Majors.

Fortunately for the Braves, they are far from the only team dealing with bullpen issues. The fact they are one of four teams within three games of first place in the National League East has been aided by the fact the Mets’ and Nationals’ bullpens have actually been even less efficient.

As the Braves move forward, they can only hope Minter puts this latest two-out mishap against the Rockies behind him and starts to provide the late-inning stability this team will need to defend its division crown.

“If you’re going to close games, you’ve got to have a short memory,” Snitker said. “You’ve got to put it behind you and come out and close the game tomorrow. I know he can do it. He’s proven he can.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.