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Bullpen can't back Fried, offense vs. D-backs

Acuna, Albies homer as young pitcher posts another impressive start
@mlbbowman
April 16, 2019

ATLANTA -- After contributing in the lopsided seventh inning of Tuesday night’s 9-6 loss to the D-backs at SunTrust Park, Braves left-handed reliever Jesse Biddle accepted accountability and vowed that he and his bullpen mates will never again endure anything like this. “It hurts, but the sun comes up tomorrow,”

ATLANTA -- After contributing in the lopsided seventh inning of Tuesday night’s 9-6 loss to the D-backs at SunTrust Park, Braves left-handed reliever Jesse Biddle accepted accountability and vowed that he and his bullpen mates will never again endure anything like this.

“It hurts, but the sun comes up tomorrow,” Biddle said. “We’ll put the uniform on, and I can promise you we’re not going to let it happen again.”

Ronald Acuña Jr. hit another monstrous home run, Johan Camargo delivered yet again with the bases loaded and Ozzie Albies' renewed success against right-handed pitchers created late-inning hope. But once closer A.J. Minter surrendered Christian Walker’s leadoff homer in Arizona’s three-run ninth, all of the focus was on Atlanta’s bullpen, which surrendered seven runs on five hits over the final three innings.

“I think the most gratifying part of that is that we beat their closer,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “Their guy at the end of the game comes in, and he’s supposed to be their stopper, and we fought right through that. That was a big blow by Christian.”

When the Braves tendered Arodys Vizcaíno a contract, they took a $4.8 million chance on a player with a right shoulder that was injured last year and has already forced the closer to the injured list. Vizcaino’s absence has shifted the closing duties to Minter, who has retired just 14 of the 24 batters he’s faced since ending his accelerated rehab from a left shoulder ailment he battled in Spring Training.

Braves manager Brian Snitker has talked about how Chad Sobotka has closer stuff. While this certainly appeared to be true when the reliever burst onto the Major League scene flashing a plus fastball and plus slider late last year, it hasn’t played recently, as he has allowed at least two runs in three of his past six outings.

Sobotka entered the seventh with a 5-2 lead and promptly hit two batters -- including Adam Jones after getting ahead with a 0-2 count -- then walked Ketel Marte to load the bases. Biddle surrendered Eduardo Escobar’s two-run single and walked David Peralta to end his outing. The two relievers combined to record 12 strikes within a span of 30 pitches.

“I was throwing a lot of non-competitive pitches out there, and I wasn’t even close to getting the job done tonight,” Biddle said. “I was really bad. I let my team down. I had a chance to pick up Chad, and I obviously didn’t, but I can’t tell you how much I want the ball tomorrow.”

Nearly three weeks into the season, the most reliable Braves relievers have been Wes Parsons, who wasn’t considered to be a bullpen candidate before having a stellar spring, and Luke Jackson, who was not an expected candidate either, but is out of options.

McCann set to return Wednesday vs. D-backs

Jackson quelled the seventh-inning uprising as he retired three of the five batters (including Carson Kelly, who was intentionally walked) after entering with no outs in the inning. But by then, the damage was done, and there was further reason to ask if the Braves should use at least one of their young starting pitching prospects to strengthen the bullpen.

“It’s not a matter of stuff,” Snitker said. “All three of them that went out there in that seventh inning have the stuff to pitch the seventh, eighth or [heck], the ninth. It’s not about that. I don’t know if that’s the answer to bring young guys up, because we have guys with stuff.”

Monster shot
Acuna’s momentum led his right knee to touch the ground as he completed the powerful swing that generated a 114.3 mph exit velocity on the 448-foot homer solo homer he hit off Arizona left-hander Robbie Ray in the fourth. This was the longest opposite-field homer the Braves' 21-year-old has hit and the fourth longest home run he’s produced.

“It was probably going to bounce, if not be a ball,” Ray said of the 3-1 curveball he threw to Acuna. “So to hit it right-center like that, you tip your cap.”

The distance and exit velocity were the second-highest marks produced by a right-handed hitter on a opposite-field homer since Statcast began tracking the data in 2015. Former D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, currently a Cardinal, hit a 449-foot shot at Coors Field on June 9, 2015. Giancarlo Stanton produced a 117.3 mph exit velo when he went the other way with a homer on March 29, 2018.

Streak ends
Max Fried had started this season 16 1/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run before he allowed five hits, including four straight with two outs, in Arizona’s two-run fourth. Two of those four hits were surrendered when he was ahead in the count, and his average four-seam velocity (93.1 mph) was down from the average produced within his first two starts (94.9 mph). But the left-hander made another good impression as he got through the sixth without his best stuff.

Impressive numbers
Albies hit a game-tying homer off Yoan Lopez to begin the bottom of the seventh and is now 14-for-45 against right-handed pitchers this year. He went 26-for-161 from the left side of the plate after last year’s All-Star break.

Camargo’s bases-clearing double in the fifth made him 10-for-18 during his career with the bases loaded. His .556 batting average is the second-best ever recorded by a player who has tallied at least 20 plate appearances with the bases loaded.

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