Reworked bullpen forces Avilan into late duty
Braves went to lefty in eighth because of Grilli's day off, Johnson's move to closer
MILWAUKEE -- With Jim Johnson lined up to serve as the closer because Jason Grilli had pitched each of the previous three days, the Braves provided Luis Avilan a chance to extend his recent success and reintroduce himself to the primary setup role he successfully handled during the 2013 season.
Unfortunately for Avilan, a pair of bloop singles and Carlos Gomez's second homer of the game forced him to deal with the frustration of having blown an eighth-inning lead during Wednesday afternoon's 6-5 loss to the Brewers.
"I thought he has been pretty good for more than a couple weeks right now," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Avilan. "You put him in situations where you think he can be successful."
Avilan has produced reverse splits this season. Entering Wednesday, left-handed hitters had hit .295 with a .317 on-base percentage against the southpaw. Right-handed batters had hit .169 with a .229 on-base percentage. But lefties were just 2-for-13 against Avilan dating back to June 18.
Accounting for this recent success and the abundance of inexperience his other available relievers had, Gonzalez felt good about Avilan beginning the eighth inning, despite the fact he would immediately face two left-handed hitters. The decision was complicated when Gerardo Parra followed pinch-hitter Shane Peterson's bloop single with one of his own.
"He made good pitches on those two left-handers that he faced to start the eighth inning," Gonzalez said. "They were just bloop singles. But even then, I thought we had a good chance to get out of the inning."
Following the two bloop singles, there certainly wasn't any reason for Gonzalez to hand the ball to either Arodys Vizcaino or David Carpenter, who had both faced just one batter while making their respective season debuts the night before. Nor would it have been comfortable to call upon veteran right-hander David Aardsma, who has allowed a home run in two of his past three appearances.
Those who were hoping to get a two-inning save from Johnson were ignoring the fact that he had pitched five of the previous seven days and has already made a Major League-high 43 appearances.
Thus, Gonzalez made the wise decision to give Avilan a chance to extend his success against right-handed hitters. But this proved to be a day when the numbers did lie. Gomez's game-winning homer stands as just one of the three hits right-handers have recorded in 15 at-bats against Avilan going back to June 15.