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Latest loss may signal tweak to stagnant lineup

MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- The Braves have a little more than two weeks to strengthen their bullpen before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. They could immediately alter their lineup with the hope of jump-starting their recently stagnant offense.

But after leadoff batter Ender Inciarte endured another hitless performance during Friday night's 2-1 loss to the D-backs in front of a SunTrust Park-record crowd of 42,130, Braves manager Brian Snitker said thoughts about altering the lineup are hindered by the fact that far more than just one of his players is currently struggling.

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ATLANTA -- The Braves have a little more than two weeks to strengthen their bullpen before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. They could immediately alter their lineup with the hope of jump-starting their recently stagnant offense.

But after leadoff batter Ender Inciarte endured another hitless performance during Friday night's 2-1 loss to the D-backs in front of a SunTrust Park-record crowd of 42,130, Braves manager Brian Snitker said thoughts about altering the lineup are hindered by the fact that far more than just one of his players is currently struggling.

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"I'll be honest with you: Nobody is really hot right now," Snitker said. "So, you wonder where to go. A lot of times when I do the lineup [changes], it's for individual reasons, not team-type things."

Now that the Braves have lost seven of their past nine contests and fallen 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Phillies in the National League East, there's further reason to address obvious needs before it becomes too late.

Concerns about the bullpen grew as Anibal Sanchez's latest strong effort went to waste when Sam Freeman issued another costly walk and Dan Winkler uncorked a wild pitch ahead of former Braves prospect Nick Ahmed's decisive RBI single. The relief corps' margin of error was virtually non-existent as the Braves' offense tallied two runs or fewer for the fourth time in the last eight games.

Video: ARI@ATL: Ahmed gives D-backs lead with single in 7th

There's certainly reason for attention to turn toward Inciarte, who has hit .185 with a .312 on-base percentage over his past 17 games. The two-time Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder simply hasn't been the consistent catalyst he was during last year's 201-hit season. Of late, he has far too frequently produced weak contact while batting .230 with a .301 OBP in 52 games as the leadoff hitter.

As All-Star Ozzie Albies has distanced himself from his early-June struggles and batted .417 with a .432 OBP over his past 18 games, he has seemingly become a good leadoff candidate. But he hit just .234 with a .283 OBP during the 39 games he sat atop the lineup. And there's reason to wonder if the 21-year-old's aggressive approach might not be as valuable if he is not hitting directly in front of All-Star Freddie Freeman.

The Braves have the option to go back to batting Albies first and placing Ronald Acuna Jr. in the two hole. This potentially dynamic pairing was used throughout most of May before Acuna sustained a sprained left anterior cruciate ligament that sidelined him for a month.

Acuna has doubled in the past two games, but he hasn't set the world on fire as he has hit .250 (11-for-44) and struck out 17 times since returning from the disabled list. So Snitker has been hesitant to move the 20-year-old phenom back near the top of the lineup.

"It's hard with Ronnie," Snitker said. "He's missed so much time. All of that is an option. It's something to think about."

Video: ARI@ATL: Snitker on Swanson's superb catch

The Braves also need more consistency from Johan Camargo, who has produced a .546 OPS over his past nine games, and Dansby Swanson, who has a .517 OPS over his past 12 games. Camargo struck out after three consecutive two-out singles in the first inning against D-backs starter Zack Godley, who allowed just one run over six innings.

"I don't know where the pieces are to put them together to all of a sudden have offense when we're not hitting on all cylinders as a team," Snitker said. "It's not just one guy. It's a team-type thing."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Godley had given up at least seven runs in his two previous starts against the Braves, and it appeared he might be approaching more trouble when he surrendered three straight hits, including Kurt Suzuki's RBI single, in the first. Acuna began the second with a double, but he was left stranded when Swanson and Inciarte sandwiched groundouts around a Sanchez strikeout.

"Always in close games, you look at situations like that where you don't pick up a spare here or there," Snitker said. "It always seems to come back to bite you a little bit."

Video: ARI@ATL: Godley strikes out 7 across 6 innings

EARLY HOOK
With the All-Star break just two days away, the Braves had the option to stick with Sanchez, who kept the D-backs scoreless until his former Tigers batterymate Alex Avila doubled and scored on Jon Jay's opposite-field blooper in the sixth.

Video: ARI@ATL: Jay gets D-backs on board with an RBI single

But Snitker lifted his veteran starter after just 86 pitches and asked Freeman to face a pair of lefties in the seventh. Jake Lamb struck out and Daniel Descalso drew a walk to set the stage for Ahmed, who greeted Winkler with the decisive single.

"Any decision he makes to leave me in the game or take me out, I think is the right decision," Sanchez said. "I was fighting in the last inning to give us a chance to win."

Video: ARI@ATL: Sanchez tosses 6 innings of 1-run ball

ALARMING TREND
After uncorking a wild pitch and allowing Ahmed's single, Winkler walked Avila before retiring the next two batters. The right-handed reliever limited opponents to a .140 (13-for-93) batting average through his first 29 appearances, but he has allowed them to hit .319 (15-for-47) and construct a .373 OBP over the following 12 outings.

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Steven Souza Jr. began the second inning with a double, but he was retired courtesy of a successful challenge issued by the Braves. It took just 50 seconds for replay officials to determine shortstop Swanson applied the tag on Sanchez's pickoff attempt before Souza got back to second base.

Video: ARI@ATL: Sanchez picks off Souza on overturned call

UP NEXT
Sean Newcomb will attempt to halt his recent struggles when he opposes the D-backs at 4:10 p.m. ET on Saturday. Newcomb allowed a season-high five runs and completed less than four innings in each of his past two starts. The lefty has surrendered seven homers while posting a 5.58 ERA over his past six starts. Arizona will counter with All-Star Zack Greinke, who has a 2.20 ERA in his past six starts against Atlanta.

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

Atlanta Braves, Ender Inciarte, Anibal Sanchez