Markakis stays hot (.338!); Braves roll on road
ST. PETERSBURG -- It turns out Nick Markakis' walk-off homer on Opening Day was a sign of things to come. The Braves' right fielder has spent the past five weeks further distancing himself from neck surgery and producing one of the most impressive power surges of his career.
Markakis enhanced his early-season success when he highlighted his latest multi-hit effort with a three-run homer in Wednesday night's 5-2 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field. The Braves have now won nine of their past 10 road games with the help of the pitching staff's record-setting streak.
"I thought coming into Spring Training, he looked unbelievable to me, just physically," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I thought he was just really lean and in great shape. He started out strong there and hasn't stopped. He's such a relentless pro."
The Braves set a modern era franchise record when Julio Teheran made an impressive escape in the fourth and extended the pitching staff's scoreless road streak to 31 innings. The streak extended to 34 innings before the Rays loaded the bases against Peter Moylan and cracked the scoreboard with Wilson Ramos' two-out, eighth-inning single off A.J. Minter.
As Teheran was adding to his recent success by limiting the Rays to four hits over six scoreless innings, he was comforted by the early lead provided by Markakis, who scored the game's first run in the second inning and then drilled what proved to be a decisive home run in the third against Rays southpaw Ryan Yarbrough, who was making his second career start.
"When you go up there trying to hit homers, you get into bad habits," Markakis said. "I was just trying to hit the ball out in front and put a pretty good swing on it. When you're on time and hit the ball out in front, you get results."
Markakis has hit .338 with seven home runs and a .973 OPS through his first 160 plate appearances of the season. This level of production was not expected from the veteran right fielder who had batted .280 while totaling 24 homers over the 1,804 at-bats he had tallied within his three previous seasons for the Braves.
After undergoing major neck surgery just before the start of the 2015 season -- his first with the Braves -- Markakis battled to regain strength while committing himself to remain an everyday fixture within Atlanta's lineup. His determination was commendable and he has provided value courtesy of clubhouse leadership.
But there certainly wouldn't have been reason to think six weeks into this season Markakis could be described as the most consistent offensive asset for a first-place Braves team that leads the National League in runs scored.
"The older you get, the harder you've got to work," Markakis said. "It all started a little earlier this year. I really dedicated the offseason to working out and being with the family. It's just hard work and getting ready for a 162-game season.
"I'm just seeing the ball really well. My timing is really good. I'm looking for pitches and not missing them. That has been the key right now."
Markakis' seven home runs put him one shy of last season's total and four away from matching his combined total from the 2015 and '17 seasons. He totaled four home runs against left-handed pitchers over 522 at-bats from 2015-17. He has tallied three homers within his first 47 at-bats against southpaws this season.
"I've always hung in there against lefties," Markakis said. "I am hitting them at a decent clip this year compared to in the past. You've just got to be on time and don't miss pitches when they make mistakes."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Teheran's escape: Teheran has now held opponents scoreless over at least six innings in three of his past four starts. It looked like he was in trouble when Matt Duffy's fourth-inning double put runners at second and third with none out. But the Braves' right-hander responded by recording consecutive strikeouts and inducing Joey Wendle's inning-ending groundout.
"I feel like my fastball has been more consistent," Teheran said. "I know my velo has not been what it's been the last couple years. But I feel like I'm able to throw it where I want to throw it. You want to hit your spots and when you do that, you get results."
JUST IN TIME
Ender Inciarte recorded a pair of hits against Yarbrough, including a two-out RBI single in the second inning that accounted for just his fifth hit in 32 at-bats against left-handed pitchers. The Gold Glove center fielder entered this season having hit .325 against southpaws dating back to the 2016 All-Star break.
The Braves have faced a left-handed starter in each of their past four games and they face two more within this weekend's four-game set in Miami.
The Braves have won seven consecutive road games for the first time since they closed 2012 with a road win and then won each of their first seven road games in 2013. They have outscored opponents 41-6 during this current streak.
Teheran now stands with teammate Sean Newcomb, the Giants' Johnny Cueto and the Rockies' Jon Gray as the only NL pitchers who have not allowed a run over at least six innings in three starts this season.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Ronald Acuna Jr. went hitless with three strikeouts and lost a ball in the domed stadium's white roof. But the 20-year-old phenom still dazzled when he dove across the left-field line to snare Denard Span's fly ball and end the third inning. The sinking fly ball had a 49-percent catch probability, per Statcast™, giving Acuna the second four-star catch of his young career.
HE SAID IT
"I look at it every time they talk about breaking up the lefties and I wonder why, because he's hammering lefties." -- Snitker, who has continued to bat Freddie Freeman just ahead of Markakis, who has hit .404 with a 1.110 OPS in 52 plate appearances against southpaws
Mike Foltynewicz will oppose Miami's Caleb Smith when the Braves and Marlins open a four-game series at Marlins Park on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Foltynewicz allowed a season-high six earned runs in his last start. Smith will be the fourth consecutive left-handed starter the Braves have faced dating back to Sunday.