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Braves' bullpen rises to occasion vs. Dodgers

Back-to-back homers by Donaldson, Duvall provide cushion
@mlbbowman
August 18, 2019

ATLANTA -- Considering a guy who had been optioned 24 hours earlier hit the decisive home run off the National League’s top Cy Young Award candidate, who ended up allowing more runs than he had in all but one of his previous 22 starts, it’s safe to say unpredictability reigned

ATLANTA -- Considering a guy who had been optioned 24 hours earlier hit the decisive home run off the National League’s top Cy Young Award candidate, who ended up allowing more runs than he had in all but one of his previous 22 starts, it’s safe to say unpredictability reigned as the Braves claimed a timely 4-3 win over the Dodgers on Saturday night at SunTrust Park.

But the late innings materialized much like Braves manager Brian Snitker had envisioned when he spent the afternoon strategizing how he would utilize his recently maligned bullpen against the powerful Dodgers, who have had their way against Atlanta since the start of last year.

Box score

“This was a timely one, especially after yesterday,” Snitker said. “We had lost a couple in a row against this team. They’re all big. They’re all good and tough.”

This one was also quite satisfying for the Braves, who won for just the fourth time in their past 16 games against the Dodgers (including last postseason). Sean Newcomb squandered Mike Soroka’s strong start in Friday’s series opener, which was further low-lighted when Ender Inciarte became the fourth key member of Atlanta’s lineup to suffer an injury since the All-Star break.

But instead of strengthening his Cy Young Award candidacy against an injury-depleted lineup, Hyun-Jin Ryu was doomed by the back-to-back home runs Josh Donaldson and Adam Duvall hit in the sixth. Ryu hadn’t previously allowed consecutive homers in his career. In fact, he entered the inning having allowed just four homers (three on June 28 at Coors Field) over 120 1/3 innings dating back to June 1.

Duvall had homered in one of his previous 10 career at-bats against Ryu. But it’s safe to say he wasn’t expecting this latest one when he was spending Friday night dining at home with his wife and dealing with the fact he’d just been optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. He wasn’t watching the game, so he was unaware of Inciarte’s injury until he received a call telling him to return to SunTrust Park for Saturday’s game.

“Things change in this game fast,” Duvall said. “You just have to stay ready.”

Snitker has remained patient with a bullpen that entered Saturday having posted a 7.16 ERA since it was seemingly upgraded with the Trade Deadline acquisitions of Shane Greene, Mark Melancon and Chris Martin. Snitker removed Greene from the closer’s role a week after he arrived and had to think about doing the same when Melancon blew a four-run lead last Saturday in Miami and nearly blew another on Wednesday against the Mets.

But this duo certainly proved up to the challenge against the Dodgers on Saturday. Greene recorded three strikeouts in a perfect eighth, and Melancon pitched around an infield single in a scoreless ninth. If the Braves are going to live up to their October expectations, they need these two veterans to continue providing stability over the remainder of the season.

“I thought their stuff was really good,” Snitker said. “They’re settling in to what we expected.”

As he has with Greene and Melancon, Snitker is sticking with Newcomb, who was a rock solid reliever until he began to struggle at the beginning of this month.

Newcomb blew Friday’s game, but Snitker went back to him Saturday when Mike Foltynewicz ran into trouble in the fifth inning, and Newcomb responded by stranding two inherited runners and following that up with a perfect sixth.

“Newk’s stuff plays too good,” Snitker said. “He’s got to be a big part of what we’re going to do. It was good to get him back out there.”

Snitker’s pregame plans also called to use Luke Jackson’s slider when it was time to face Max Muncy and Justin Turner, both of whom have struggled with breaking balls. Of course, on a night when the unexpected reigned, Muncy began the seventh by drilling a fastball for a homer and Turner followed with a walk.

But just when it looked like the Braves’ bullpen was going to falter yet again, Jackson retired the next three hitters, including Cody Bellinger and Matt Beaty, who went down swinging against sliders.

“It just takes a minute for everybody to get settled in,” Foltynewicz said. “Now they are, and now we go.”

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