ATLANTA -- As the Trade Deadline nears, the Braves have been encouraged by their rotation and discouraged by a bullpen that continues to plague the team’s bid to find consistent success.
Braves manager Brian Snitker’s decision to lift starter Kyle Muller proved costly in a 3-2 loss to the Padres in the first game of a doubleheader on Wednesday afternoon at Truist Park. Muller’s exit after four innings prompted the entry of Shane Greene, who allowed Fernando Tatis Jr.’s 29th homer of the season.
Throwing 87 pitches through four innings certainly doesn’t fit the description of an economical outing. But given Muller had allowed just one run at this point, sticking with him at this pitch count seemed to be less of a gamble than rolling the dice on Greene, who now has a 10.38 ERA through 15 appearances.
“That’s a lot of pitches for four innings,” Snitker said. “If you take almost 90 pitches to get through four innings, that's probably going to be the end of the day, most times.”
Most times, there are options better than the ones that currently exist in the Braves’ bullpen. A.J. Minter was optioned after playing a part in the leads squandered against the Rays on Friday and Saturday.
Now the Braves have to continue evaluating some of their other regressing assets like Greene, who remained a free agent before the pitching-hungry Braves re-signed him. The veteran reliever’s early struggles were blamed on not having Spring Training.
But more than two months after signing and more than a month after making his season debut, his struggles have continued. The 32-year-old hurler has allowed six runs and three homers over his past five appearances (4 2/3 innings).
So that’s why there was reason to question replacing even a fatigued Muller with Greene, who walked Tommy Pham before allowing Tatis to belt his 411-foot homer over the left-center-field wall.
“He was really good two nights ago,” Snitker said. “But I think it's just pretty much the location part.”
Muller allowed two hits and pitched around three walks while allowing just one run over four innings, but he wasn’t given a chance to go through the Padres’ lineup a third time.
Muller’s emergence over the past few weeks has further strengthened a much-improved rotation. The big lefty has posted a 2.41 ERA through his first four career starts. The only run he surrendered on Wednesday came after a wild pitch moved Jurickson Profar in position to score on Ha-Seong Kim’s sacrifice fly.
When told that Snitker described his outing as “effectively wild,” Muller agreed with the assessment.
“I couldn't really find that groove to keep executing pitches and hit some spots,” Muller said. “So, on the pitching side of things, it wasn't a very good performance. But in terms of damage control, I was pleased with that.”