Three Cuts: Harang falters early, Braves swept by Phils at home

The optimist would downplay the magnitude of Harang surrendering nine runs (eight earned) on Wednesday, instead focusing on the 15 seasonal starts, at large, and how the Braves righty has allowed three or less earned runs 12 times.

In fact, when conveniently removing Harang’s two worst outings (April 30 and June 18 — 17 combined earned runs), Harang’s ERA for the other 13 starts stands at a cool 2.38.

The optimist would also praise Harang (four strikeouts/three walks vs. Philly) for modestly reversing a negative trend of tallying more walks than strikeouts in three straight starts (June 1-13).

They might even play the Meh card on this day, reasoning that even top-shelf aces incur two or three clunkers per season.

The pessimist, in turn, would lament the 13 hits Harang allowed (his largest tally since 2011), the noticeable drop in strikeouts during June (only three per outing) and how the each of the Phillies’ first six hitters had already notched multiple hits before the 7th-inning stretch.

In the second inning, for example, Harang retired the first two Phillies (Roberto Hernandez, Cesar Hernandez) before being ambushed for six straight hits (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Marlon Byrd, Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr.) and five runs.

"I definitely wasn’t sharp out there," said Harang, who wasn’t particularly pleased with the location and movement of his breaking pitches against Philly.

Harang required 115 pitches (66 strikes) just to get through five innings of work. But it was a necessary struggle, given how the Atlanta bullpen has been overtaxed in the last few days.

"I tell you what, (Harang) battled," said Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez. "He’d been paying attention to everything that had been going on our with our bullpen over the last three days, and he gave us everything he had."

Gonzalez then added: "(It was) just one of those outings — tough timing on it, because of our circumstances in the bullpen. I can’t complain about it, really."

Harang allowed at least one run in four of his five innings on Wednesday, with the lone scoreless frame coming on a 1-2-3 third inning. All in all, it was a rough (and hot) day to be sluggish on the mound.

In essence, we’re starting to see instances of Harang’s cumulative ERA for 5.40 in 2013 (with the Mariners and Mets) … and the aging veteran who was cut by the pitching-starved Indians during the 2014 spring training.

Yes, Braves rookie Tommy La Stella had a .364 batting average and .425 on-base percentage heading into the day; and yes, the hulking Heyward (1 for 2 with two walks on Wednesday) has the type of athletic build and RBI potential of a 3-4-5-6 hitter.

But as presently constituted, the Braves simply don’t have a better season-long leadoff option than Heyward, who accounted for six homers, 20 RBI, 24 runs and a .347 OBP from May 1-June 17.

Gattis’s two-run blast in the first inning (scoring Freddie Freeman) helped the Braves quickly erase an early 2-0 hole. It also raised El Oso Blanco‘s hitting streak to 17 consecutive games — a franchise record amongst Braves catchers.

"The guy’s an animal," said Braves utilityman Ryan Doumit. "It’s fun to just sit back and watch what he does. He’s a special talent, and it’s fun to watch."

Looking ahead, Gattis (16 homers/38 RBI/.294 average/.346 OBP) is on pace for something like 33 homers and 78 RBI. Not bad for a guy who was a big-league afterthought roughly 18 months ago.

Atlanta (36-35 overall) has a 4-6 record in its last 10 games and a 6-10 mark for the month of June — subpar tallies that help explain why the club no longer occupies the top spot in the National League East standings.

But let’s remember there are no "sprint" portions of an MLB schedule before the All-Star break, meaning that every team — at some point — will invariably look disorganized, disinterested and depleted for sustained stretches during a season.

On the flip side, the Braves might have simply encountered the proud Phillies (32-38) at the wrong time. How else to explain Philly racking up 40 hits over three days … and still ranking among the National League’s six worst offenses with batting average (.243) and on-base percentage (.309).

Which brings us to this: Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Atlanta owns a stellar head-to-head record of 18-7 against Washington.

With that knowledge, the Braves could be walking into a hornet’s nest in our nation’s capital, with expected matchups against Jordan Zimmermann (Thursday — one run allowed, 21 strikeouts in his last 25 innings), Stephen Strasburg (Friday — 11 consecutive outings of three or less runs), Doug Fister (Saturday — 33/5 K-BB rate for the season) and Tanner Roark (Sunday — eight consecutive starts of three runs or less).

And it doesn’t apply to this weekend … but two-time All-Star Gio Gonzalez has officially returned from the disabled list.