LOS ANGELES -- Less than a week after validating themselves by taking three of four from the Nationals, the Braves are once again languishing through another trip out west. But unlike the past few years, they are approaching the heart of the summer feeling good about the reinforcements that could
LOS ANGELES -- Less than a week after validating themselves by taking three of four from the Nationals, the Braves are once again languishing through another trip out west. But unlike the past few years, they are approaching the heart of the summer feeling good about the reinforcements that could soon arrive.
Brandon McCarthy's return to Dodger Stadium proved to be frustrating as the veteran right-hander surrendered three home runs and exited during the fifth inning of Friday night's 7-3 loss to the Dodgers. The Braves allowed a season-high five homers and were unable to take advantage after Walker Buehler made an abrupt exit.
"Any time a pitch was over the middle, it felt like they were putting a good swing on it," Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said. "Credit to them for that. Honestly, I thought our pitchers threw fine. It was just a couple pitches they hit. That's the game of baseball. We swung the bats decent, but had nothing to show for it."
The Braves have dropped three of the first four games of this trip and have lost 63 of 91 road games against National League West opponents since the start of 2013. But even with this recent skid, they remain tied atop the NL East with the Nationals, who saw Stephen Strasburg exit Friday's game with right shoulder inflammation.
"You're going to run into runs like that over the course of a long season," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You've just got to keep fighting through it, whether it's a road trip or a homestand or whatever it is, you've just got to keep fighting and grinding through it."
Buehler proved perfect through the first four innings, stumbled in the fifth and exited in the sixth because of rib soreness that may stem from being hit in the ribs with a liner last month. But after bidding adieu to Swanson's former Vanderbilt teammate, who has a 2.63 ERA through nine starts, the Braves were unable to overcome their early deficit.
While their two recent leadoff hitters -- Ozzie Albies and Ender Inciarte -- have been in a funk, the Braves offense hasn't completely disappeared over the past couple weeks. But it's worth noting that they have scored fewer than five runs in nine of 12 games since Ronald Acuna Jr. strained his left anterior cruciate ligament on May 27. They were limited to this range in just 16 of the 29 games the 20-year-old phenom played before being sidelined.
Acuna could return to the Braves' lineup as early as next weekend. But while scoring at least four runs on a given night can often be enough, it hasn't necessarily been so for an Atlanta pitching staff that has allowed at least five runs in four of the past 12 games. The rotation will need consistency that extends beyond the starts made by Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz.
"I definitely don't feel like I've pitched to where my numbers are," McCarthy said. "I feel like I've pitched pretty well. It just hasn't all come together. Today was a day at the end of the season, you just chalk it up to being a bad day. I didn't feel fresh and everything was just a bit off. A lot of the other ones, it hasn't felt that way. I'd say I've thrown better than it's shown. But it's up to me to make sure the results follow."
Yasmani Grandal hit a pair of solo shots and Joc Pederson added another to account for three long balls surrendered by McCarthy, who allowed four earned runs and five hits over 4 2/3 innings. McCarthy was making his first start against the Dodgers since being traded to the Braves in December's financially motivated deal that sent Matt Kemp to Los Angeles.
McCarthy has posted a 5.03 ERA through 13 starts and has allowed opponents to produce a .907 OPS as he's constructed a 6.75 ERA over his past seven starts. The veteran hurler must show more consistency. But given he entered Friday having allowed two earned runs or less in three of his past four starts, his rotation spot is not necessarily in jeopardy as Mike Soroka nears a return from the disabled list and highly-regarded prospect Kolby Allard nears a potential call to the Majors.
"It feels like it's been a lot of home runs, but it's been a lot of hits," McCarthy said. "The home runs are generally earned when they're struck well. But I feel like I've given up a lot of [cheap] hits that have led to runs. Pitch quality on the whole has to be better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Location, Location, Location: After the Dodgers gained an early lead with Yasiel Puig's first-inning RBI single, they added to it when Grandal drilled a middle-middle sinker over the center-field wall to open the bottom of the second. The Dodgers catcher jumped on a cutter located in essentially the same spot to account for his two-out, solo homer in the fourth. Pederson added to McCarthy's frustration when he took advantage of an elevated curveball and drilled it over the right field wall with two outs in the fifth.
"Three really terrible pitches to a team that's not missing terrible pitches right now," McCarthy said. "That pretty much sums up my crap outing."
Player Page for Max Muncy greeted Sam Freeman with a solo shot in the fifth and Cody Bellinger tattooed Jesse Biddle's 3-1 slider to account for another solo shot in the eighth. The Dodgers have totaled 22 homers through their first seven games in June.
McCarthy joins Josh Collmenter (May 24, 2017 vs. Pirates), Nick Masset (May 25, 2015 at Dodgers) and Matt Wisler (June 11, 2016 vs. Cubs) as the only Braves pitchers since 2010 to allow at least three home runs within an outing that consisted of 64 pitches or less.
This wasn't a first for McCarthy, who allowed the Mariners to homer three times within the 56-pitch, two-inning outing he completed against them on April 15, 2007.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Once Buehler exited in the sixth, Albies was somewhat confused as switch-pitcher Pat Venditte warmed up. Venditte chose to pitch right-handed to the switch-hitting Albies, who flied out to center field. The unique reliever threw right-handed to Swanson, who doubled, and then switched back to a left-handed delivery against Freeman, who doubled to cut the Braves' deficit to 5-2.
"You've still got to throw it over the white thing," Swanson said. "But honestly, it's kind of cool. It's like stuff you did in Wiffle ball, when you were a kid."
HE SAID IT
"[Buehler] has always been a special talent. He's a phenomenal competitor. That was one of my favorite things about playing behind him. He definitely believes in himself. He's got similar stuff. He's just gotten older and gotten better." -- Swanson, who was taken 23 picks ahead of his former Vandy teammate in the first round of the 2015 Draft
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
McCarthy ended the first inning by catching Puig straying too far from first base. The out call stood when the Dodgers challenged first-base umpire Angel Hernandez's call. Snitker spoke with plate umpire Alan Porter during the review and crew chief Bill Miller before the start of the second inning. He was arguing the Dodgers exceeded the 30-second limit to issue the challenge.
The Braves will reacquaint with an old friend when they send Anibal Sanchez to the mound to oppose Dodgers southpaw Alex Wood Saturday at 9:10 p.m. ET. Traded by Atlanta during the 2015 season, Wood earned his first All-Star selection last year. But he has struggled this season, posting a 5.19 ERA over his past 10 starts. Sanchez has allowed two earned runs or less in three of his four starts this year.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.