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Teheran has strong start, but 'pen struggles

@mlbbowman
March 28, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Adding Craig Kimbrel would help the Braves’ bullpen, but it wouldn't necessarily fix it, especially in its current injury-depleted state. Given the score would have relegated him to the role of expensive spectator, Kimbrel's presence would not have altered the outcome of Thursday afternoon's 10-4 Opening Day loss

PHILADELPHIA -- Adding Craig Kimbrel would help the Braves’ bullpen, but it wouldn't necessarily fix it, especially in its current injury-depleted state.

Given the score would have relegated him to the role of expensive spectator, Kimbrel's presence would not have altered the outcome of Thursday afternoon's 10-4 Opening Day loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. But concerns about the Braves’ bullpen grew as Shane Carle and Luke Jackson shattered hope for a comeback by surrendering crushing late-inning home runs.

"We just couldn't stop the bleeding there," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It's situations where that part of the bullpen is going to have to come in and give us a crack at it. We couldn't do it today."

With A.J. Minter sidelined for at least another week and Darren O'Day's potential return date still uncertain, Snitker may feel like he's playing blackjack with nothing but sevens and eights every time the bullpen door opens. Four of his eight relievers are on an Opening Day roster for the first time and his closer, Arodys Vizcaíno, enhanced concerns about the durability of his shoulder when he opted to not pitch in a Major League Spring Training game after March 20.

If Kimbrel relented and was willing to accept the short-term deal the Braves may be willing to offer, it would be comforting to place the free-agent reliever in the closer's role. But Vizcaino's shoulder wouldn't be any more dependable and the reliability of inexperienced relievers like Chad Sobotka and Carle wouldn't be any more certain if they were pushed into different roles still aimed toward frequently having ninth-inning leads.

"In [Thursday's] game, where we were, the big thing is to go out and get ahead of hitters and try to keep the game there for the guys to come back," Snitker said. "It just didn't work out."

Making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start, Julio Teheran handed a 3-1 sixth-inning deficit to Carle, who issued a pair of walks before delivering an elevated 3-2 fastball that Maikel Franco tomahawked into the left-field seats for a two-out, three-run homer.

Matt Joyce cut the deficit to 6-3 when he came off the bench to homer in his first at-bat as a Brave. But thoughts of his two-run shot stirring a rally quickly dissipated when Jackson issued a leadoff walk and committed a throwing error that led Snitker to intentionally walk Bryce Harper ahead of Rhys Hoskins, who drilled a 1-0 fastball into the left-field seats for his first career grand slam.

"Everybody has got good stuff," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "It's about getting ahead [of hitters] and staying ahead."

Given his best credential is being out of options, Jackson probably shouldn't have been placed on the roster, let alone provided a chance to pitch in what was still a winnable game. But until Minter returns, Vizcaino creates some confidence about his health and the inexperienced relievers prove themselves, this bullpen will remain more than a Craig Kimbrel away from being reliable.

Teheran's slider: Teheran used his slider a career-high 42 percent of the time as he limited the Phillies to three runs, while notching seven strikeouts over five innings. The slider accounted for eight of the first nine pitches thrown to Harper, who went hitless as he was unable to extend his dominance of the Braves' veteran starter.

Harper struck out against a fastball to end a perfect fifth and he whiffed on a two-strike slider after Dansby Swanson's throwing error put Jean Segura on second with no outs in the fourth. Consecutive strikeouts of Harper and Hoskins put Teheran in position to escape the inning unscathed. But Odubel Herrera chopped a low fastball up the middle to score Segura and Cesar Hernandez followed by hitting an off-the-plate changeup the other way to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead.

"When you get those kinds of swings and they still get a base hit, there's nothing you can do," said Teheran, who retired nine straight after his first-inning troubles were extended by Andrew McCutchen's leadoff homer.

Bench power: Joyce needed just one at-bat to equal the extra-base hit total Adam Duvall recorded in 53 at-bats with the Braves last year. Joyce’s two-run, seventh-inning homer off Hector Neris showed why the Braves took a chance by acquiring him from the Giants on Saturday to fill the bench role previously earmarked for Duvall before he was sent to Triple-A.

Summing it up: "The only thing today means is we can't go 162-0. It's just one game. It's no big deal. I'm pretty sure the Boston Red Sox lost their Opening Day game last year and they turned out all right." -- Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman

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