ATLANTA -- One bad inning that lowlighted what was one bad start should not lessen the excitement surrounding the Braves. But Mike Foltynewicz's struggles during Friday night's 9-4 loss to the Giants did at least remind us the maximum value of a dynamic offense is significantly influenced by the consistent success experienced by that team's starting rotation.
There was a definite buzz in the air as the first-place Braves prepared to introduce Ronald Acuna Jr. and Jose Bautista to the SunTrust Park-record crowd of 41,807 fans who attended the series opener. Freddie Freeman enhanced the energy with a two-run homer in the first before Foltynewicz quieted the crowd while allowing the Giants to produce a decisive six-run second inning.
"I'm just disappointed in myself," Foltynewicz said. "It was a big game and a great crowd. We were on a roll. That one inning was just tough. I wish we could have given up just four in that inning and it would have been a great ballgame."
While the National League's highest-scoring offense had aided the five-game winning streak that put the Braves at the top of the NL East standings, the rotation had also done its part, allowing one run or fewer over at least five innings in 14 of the 30 games, including each of the past five. But Foltynewicz was unable to extend this success as he struggled with his fastball command and never truly found a consistent feel for his slider.
"The reason we had that little run there was our starting pitching was really good," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You're going to have games like that. You're going to have innings like that. He's been pitching really good. It's just one inning of the season. He'll bounce back and be fine."
Gregor Blanco's triple and doubles from Alen Hanson and Brandon Belt highlighted the six-run second for the Giants. Foltynewicz needed 56 pitches to complete the first two innings and ended up allowing a season-high six earned runs on nine hits over five innings.
The 26-year-old right-hander has completed five innings or fewer in four of his first seven starts. But the fact he was able to give the Braves at least five innings in this start provided some indication he has further distanced himself from those days early in his career when such an inning would have led to another implosion and prevented him from completing as many as five innings.
"It's just a tough game," Foltynewicz said. "It's a learning experience. You learn every game, but you don't want to learn in this fashion in front of this crowd and in this great environment. This is a tough one for me."
Freeman's opposite-field two-run homer gave the Braves an early lead against Chris Stratton, who limited Atlanta's potent offense to three runs over six innings. Nick Markakis drilled his sixth homer of the season with two outs in the third. But his solo shot was far from enough to overcome the second-inning damage incurred by Foltynewicz.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Tone-setting walk: After Brandon Crawford opened the second by lacing a 2-0 fastball to right for a single, Foltynewicz got ahead of Austin Jackson 0-2 and then walked the Giants center fielder. Blanco followed by tripling on a slightly elevated 2-1 slider. Two batters later Hanson doubled on a 3-2, flat slider up in the zone to give the Giants a lead they would not relinquish.
"That one inning, there wasn't much to lean on," catcher Tyler Flowers said. "We weren't getting strikes early, and then we weren't able to put anything in a good location for a period there."
Unexpected power: Stratton produced deception with his slider and cutter as he limited the NL's top offense to three runs over six innings. Markakis accounted for the last of those three runs with his two-out solo homer in the third inning. Markakis has tallied four of his six homers within his past 42 at-bats. The veteran outfielder totaled eight homers in 593 at-bats last season.
Welcome to Atlanta: Acuna Jr. flied out to deep center in the first inning and went hitless in four at-bats while playing in front of the hometown fans for the first time. Bautista introduced himself to his new fanbase as he doubled off the center-field wall during the first inning. But the 37-year-old veteran went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in his season debut.
Freeman's first-inning home run gave the Braves an MLB-best 34 first-inning runs. They also lead the Majors with a .371 first-inning batting average. They are also tied with the Nationals and Rockies with 10 home runs in the opening frame.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Three of the four balls Acuna put in play on Friday night had an exit velocity that exceeded 105 mph. His third-inning groundout to short had a 114-mph exit velocity -- the highest mark recorded by a Braves player this year and the seventh-highest mark produced by any Atlanta player since the start of 2016.
Acuna has produced an exit velocity of at least 105 mph with 10 of the first 30 balls he has put in play during his career.
HE SAID IT
"The slider, they just weren't swinging at it, period, or when they did, it was out over the middle of the plate and they knew what to do with it. If they can eliminate one pitch, hats off to them, and they did that with my slider tonight." -- Foltynewicz, who got a swing and miss with just two of the 22 sliders he threw
Another sold-out crowd is expected when the Braves and Giants resume this series Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Acuna will be aiming to extend the success he had during his first week at the Major League level and Brandon McCarthy will take the mound hoping to get Atlanta's rotation back on track. The Giants will send Ty Blach (2-3, 4.10 ERA) to the hill.