ATLANTA — The San Diego Padres entered Friday’s game against the Atlanta Braves averaging 7.03 hits per contest this season. The Padres passed that mark in the third inning, tallied 12 on starter Alex Wood by the fifth inning, and finished with 13 hits on the way to a 5-2 win at Turner Field over the Braves.
San Diego is in town for four games. Here are five observations from Atlanta’s Game 1 loss:
The Padres jumped all over Alex Wood early, not even giving the lefty hurler a chance to get comfortable on the mound. Three of the first four San Diego hitters knocked singles, the third of which was a Tommy Medica base hit that drove in leadoff hitter Chris Denorfia.
The bleeding was stopped, mercifully, after just one run. But San Diego kept hacking.
The Padres collected three more hits in the second inning, two in the third inning while scoring another run, and then added two more runs in the fourth inning on two more hits.
San Diego got the leadoff hitter on base, with a hit, in each of the first five innings, and was up 5-0 to boot. Wood, who gave up a career-high 12 hits, only lasted five innings. He gave up four earned runs, struck out four batters and walked one.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, after the game, said he’d never seen so many ground balls get through the infield. Wood, for the most part agreed, but said he could have done some things differently on the mound.
"I don’t think I adjusted quick enough, and change my game plan that we had going in," said Wood after the game. "We didn’t go in enough early on (with inside pitches), and I could have thrown a few more breaking balls. They just took their singles and it paid off for them."
Wood said a couple of his changeups might have gotten "a little side-to-side," but for the most part he felt good about his outing. A little more backspin on his changeup, and take away some of the pitches he left over the plate, Wood said he felt his outing could have been completely different.
Since returning to the rotation on June 25, Wood has pitched well. In the five starts before Friday, he posted a 2.87 ERA and only gave up 10 runs and 20 hits in 31 1/3 innings. Add in the most recent loss to the Padres, and Wood still sports a 3.47 ERA since returning to the rotation, and a 3.44 on the season.
While disappointed in the outcome on Friday, Wood said nothing that happened would discourage him moving forward. He’ll return to the ballpark on Saturday and begin his normal Day 1 routine between starts.
Wood’s 12 hits allowed to the Padres are one more than his last three starts combined. Both he and Gonzalez are considering this outing as more an anomaly than case for panic.
With Atlanta’s loss to San Diego, and Washington’s win over Cincinnati on Friday, the Braves are now 2 1/2 games behind the Nationals in the race for the National League East crown.
With 59 games left on the schedule for the Braves, and 62 for the Nats, 2 1/2 games isn’t insurmountable by any stretch of the imagination. It’s really almost still too early to keep a hard-and-fast count.
But a month from now, maybe two, the Braves may look back at the two series prior, and these three post-All-Star Game series as a stretch of games that were a huge opportunity lost.
In the two series prior–against the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs–and three after–the Philadelphia Phillies, Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres–Atlanta has played five teams with losing records, three of which are in last place in their respective divisions. In those 15 games, the Braves have a 6-9 record, and have three more games to play against San Diego.
The Nationals, over that same time period, are 7-5 and have built that 2 1/2 game lead over the Braves. What makes that lead even worse for Atlanta, is the treacherous stretch of games on the horizon.
Starting with games after the San Diego series, Atlanta plays seven series, six of which the Braves will face off against teams with a winning record, including two division leaders in the Nationals, and the Oakland Athletics. Two more of those series–the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates–come against second-place teams, and 11 of the 21 games will be on the road.
If the Braves, with a favorable schedule, posted a 6-9 record, how will this team fare after Atlanta goes three weeks with facing some of the best teams in the league? How far behind the Nationals will they be?
This Atlanta team had a golden opportunity to build up a lead in the division, before undertaking this upcoming road trip, and facing all these good teams. Unless Atlanta takes the next three from San Diego, and gets some help from the Cincinnati Reds against the Nationals, there could be a chasm-like deficit the Braves will have to make up in the final month of the season.
Left-handed relief pitcher Jonny Venters hit a new milestone in his rehab efforts on Friday. According to Gonzalez, Venters said he felt great after throwing from 100 feet on flat ground.
"We’re looking for him to throw bullpens on the road," said the Braves manager. "I don’t know the exact dates of those bullpens, but we’re looking to get him on the mound on the road."
Venters has had a rough go at rehabbing his surgically-repaired left elbow. After going under the knife in May of 2013, Venters has started, stopped, and moved backward in the rehab process multiple times since February of this year.
In June, after feeling discomfort after a mound session, Venters received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow. That procedure sidelined him until earlier this week when he went through some light tossing, which led to a long-toss session Friday.
"Best case scenario is get him onto the next (step in the rehab process), just keep building off of that," Gonzalez said. "Because you start thinking about best-case scenario (for returning to the bullpen), and then there’s a step back or a setback. Let’s get him onto the next catch, and then get him on the mound and just keep working our way up there."
Even though there’s a shot at Venters joining the bullpen by season’s end, it’s not likely the Braves’ front office will rely on 29-year-old southpaw. He’s been through too many ups and downs trying to come back from elbow surgery. If Atlanta deems it necessary to add another lefty reliever–and that’s been one of the more likely scenarios as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches–the team will surely make that move.
If the team pulls off a trade, and Venters does return in 2014, then the Braves will have to decide what to do with the extra left-handed arm.