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Braves 'pen picks up where Soroka left off

Rookie starter fans career-high 8 before relievers finish job; Albies homers again
@mlbbowman
April 30, 2019

ATLANTA -- As Jacob Webb nervously fielded questions about recording his first save in the Braves’ 3-1 win over the Padres on Monday night at SunTrust Park, he was asked if his heart was still racing. “Oh, dude,” Webb said. “It’s going to be going all night. I probably won’t

ATLANTA -- As Jacob Webb nervously fielded questions about recording his first save in the Braves’ 3-1 win over the Padres on Monday night at SunTrust Park, he was asked if his heart was still racing.

“Oh, dude,” Webb said. “It’s going to be going all night. I probably won’t sleep very much.”

What had the makings of a restless night for Braves manager Brian Snitker proved to be a memorable one, as Atlanta’s short-handed bullpen did its job after Mike Soroka's strong start and Ozzie Albies continued to be a beast from the right side of the plate.

Albies’s RBI single capped an eventful two-run third inning, during which Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte exited with a right hamstring ailment that will be further evaluated on Tuesday. Albies got to Padres left-hander Nick Margevicius again in the fifth with a two-out solo shot, his sixth homer of the season and his third within a span of five at-bats from the right side.

But the focus of this victory was on the pitchers, who did the job before and after Snitker was forced to make what he said might have been the toughest decision he’s made this year.

The top prospect: Soroka surrendered consecutive singles to begin the game and faced a 1-0 deficit before escaping the first. But the 21-year-old right-hander exited after six innings with a career-high eight strikeouts, and that one run as the only blemish on his line. He put two on with nobody out in the fourth and then retired his final nine batters, five via strikeout.

“He doesn’t shy away,” Snitker said. “He gets in the strike zone and gets contact, which is a really good thing.”

Soroka ended his 81-pitch night with consecutive strikeouts of Franmil Reyes, Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer. He has allowed just one run in each of this season’s first three starts.

The putaway pitches on those eight strikeouts: three four-seam fastballs, three sliders and two changeups. But as is always the case, the most important pitch in Soroka’s arsenal was his two-seam sinker, which induced Machado’s first-inning double play and resulted in 11 called strikes out of a total of 35 pitches.

“The four-seam was big late, especially after they started to see two-seam down,” Soroka said. “I think coming back with four-seam late, especially with that strikeout of Machado, was really big because he’d seen nothing but two seams. That’s going to be a pitch we’ll save and use when we need it.”

The decision: Soroka was cruising, but because he had thrown a career-high 109 pitches five days earlier in Cincinnati, he was not going to be pushed beyond the seventh, regardless of his pitch count.

So despite knowing Luke Jackson and A.J. Minter were unavailable, Snitker opted to pinch-hit for Soroka with the bases loaded in the sixth.

Pinch hitter Charlie Culberson flew out to left field to end the threat, leaving Snitker open to second guessing. The decision was influenced by the fact Soroka missed most of last year with a right shoulder ailment.

“He had one more inning regardless,” Snitker said. “If he’d have been in a situation where he was going to go two more innings, I’d have let him hit. But he had one more inning. I rode him pretty hard the last game in Cincinnati. You forget, this kid missed a majority of the season last year. We want to keep him upright throughout this year because a lot went into that. That might have been the toughest decision I’ve had all year.”

The ninth: After Josh Tomlin ended his two scoreless innings, Snitker opened the ninth with Jerry Blevins, who was acquired from the A’s in exchange for $1 on Sunday. The veteran lefty got a three-pitch strikeout of Eric Hosmer and then gave way to Webb, whose career resume was three innings over five appearances.

“I’ve been anxious to get him in one of those situations,” Snitker said. “I remember calling Double-A on him all the time last year because his stuff stood out for me.”

The strikeout rates Webb produced for Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett didn’t mean anything as he came in and promptly retired Renfroe via a groundout. The 25-year-old rookie then made the most of his opportunity as he sandwiched two 95 mph fastballs between a slider to strike out Wil Myers.

“It’s a different beast out there,” Webb said. “But it is what it is. I feel like I can control my emotions a little better out there. It’s my domain. I’m used to it.”

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