Braves' bullpen stumbles after Keuchel's gem

Swarzak, Parsons labor in key 3-run 8th inning against Royals

July 24th, 2019

ATLANTA -- Less than an hour after using in the eighth inning of a one-run game, the Braves sent the right-handed reliever back to Triple-A Gwinnett and continued to look for ways to bolster a bullpen that now knows is human.

“I was hoping [Parsons] could put it on the ground,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said after his team squandered 's season-best 12 strikeout effort and came up short with a ninth-inning rally in Tuesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Royals at SunTrust Park.

If there was any lingering question about the need for the Braves’ need to add quality bullpen depth before the July 31 Trade Deadline, the answer was clearly provided when Parsons was deemed the best choice in a one-run game that followed the first of this week’s two off-days. The 26-year-old rookie reliever was effective in April, but there’s a reason that before this weekend he had spent the past two months with Gwinnett.

Working with a fresh bullpen and benefiting from 's tying single in the seventh, the Braves were never able to recover from the three-run eighth inning the Royals produced courtesy of Swarzak’s rare rough outing and the ugly appearance made by Parsons, who walked in a run and hit another batter with the bases loaded.

The Braves tallied three straight ninth-inning singles against Royals closer Ian Kennedy, but they came up a hit short of completing yet another rally. Atlanta has a 5 1/2-game lead in the National League East, despite losing five of the past seven games. But more importantly, the Braves have holes in a bullpen that seemingly needs more than just the addition of a more reliable closing option than Luke Jackson. 

“You never get caught up in [trade talk],” Freeman said before Tuesday’s game. “Last year, I was in it a lot just with [general manager Alex Anthopoulos]. This year has been different. I haven’t really been talking to him that much. We’ve got other things to worry about [during games]. We’ll let them figure out what we need. I like our team right now. If they feel we need to add, then they add.”  

If a legitimate frontline starting pitcher becomes available, the Braves will attempt to further strengthen a rotation that has already been bolstered by the June addition of Keuchel. But the more pressing need is a bullpen that was strengthened by the May acquisition of Swarzak. 

Anthopoulos has made sound acquisitions dating to the November signing of Josh Donaldson. Now one week before the Trade Deadline, the GM is challenged to make what could be yet another highly influential decision.

Swarzak had allowed just one run over 21 1/3 innings with the Braves before Lucas Duda opened the decisive eighth by hitting a go-ahead homer on a 2-2 slider. A walk and single later, Snitker handed the ball to Parsons despite the fact that Sean Newcomb was also warming in the bullpen. 

“Usually what we think of [Swarzak] is as a guy coming in and getting the ball over the plate and getting the ball on the ground,” Snitker said. “It was a good spot for him.”  

In hindsight, it would have been a better spot for Newcomb or Josh Tomlin, who would have at least had better control than Parsons, who recorded a strike with just 11 of 22 pitches.  

Parsons entered with two on and promptly issued consecutive walks within a span of 13 pitches, just three of which were actually within the strike zone. Before hitting Humberto Arteaga, a .208 hitter, with the bases loaded, Parsons was fortunate Dansby Swanson snared Cheslor Cuthbert’s line drive.

What had the makings to be a memorable night when Keuchel proved perfect through three innings and notched his first double-digit strikeout total before the end of the fifth, quickly evolved into a forgettable one.  

Like Swarzak might have been due for a rough outing, Alex Gordon was certainly due to have some success against Keuchel. Gordon was 3-for-18 (includes the postseason) with no extra-base hits against the former American League Cy Young Award winner before tagging him with an RBI double in the fourth and a towering solo homer in the sixth.

Anthopoulos made the right move six weeks ago when he committed $13 million to Keuchel, who has now allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his past five starts. Now the seasoned GM must determine how to further strengthen his pitching staff for the stretch run.