Three Cuts: Rockies get to Kimbrel, Braves’ bullpen

Taking three cuts following the Braves’ 6-5 loss to the Rockies in 12 innings at Coors Field.

1. For one day, the best bullpen in baseball didn’t come through

Craig Kimbrel entering with a two-run lead? Another Braves’ win, right?

It wasn’t to be.

For just the third time in his 173 career appearances, Kimbrel allowed three or more hits, including a two-out, two-run game-tying double to Dexter Fowler, a ball that was just out of the reach of Justin Upton.

It was Kimbrel’s first blown save of the season, and like those other two three-plus hit outings, it would end with a Braves’ loss.

“We had a chance to end it with our guy on the mound and we couldn’t do it,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Three innings later — a stretch that also saw Eric Young get to Jordan Walden for a one-out triple — Louis Ayala gave up a Wilin Rosario double and following an intentional walk to Michael Cuddyer and a Matt Belisle strikeout, Yorvit Torrealba singled on a line drive to left, scoring Rosario and denying the Braves a three-game sweep in Denver.

It was a tough finish for a ‘pen that entered the day with a 1.27 ERA, which is tops in the majors, and boasts a .194 batting average against.

But in a testament to just how dominant Kimbrel has been this season, his stat line still reads a 1.86 ERA with 14 strikeouts and three walks in 9 2/3 innings of work.

The Rockies were all over Kimbrel’s fastball, with Jonathan Herrera and Fowler both doubling off the four-seamer he throws 77.5 percent of the time.

There’s no cause for panic — Kimbrel came in allowing three hits combined in his first nine appearances — and if anything, the stunning nature of Kimbrel’s blown save proves just how high the expectations are. It was just his fourth blown save for Kimbrel in his last 54 appearances.

2. Tim Hudson will have to wait, again

The 37-year-old was making his second attempt to become the 110th pitcher to reach 200 wins, and while he did his part, departing with the Braves up 5-3 after six innings, his bid for history is on hold after Kimbrel’s ninth-inning troubles.

Hudson is looking to become the third active player, joining Andy Pettitte (248) and Roy Halladay (201) to win No. 200 and the eighth player to have been a Brave to do it — following Warren Spahn (363), Kid Nichols (361), Greg Maddux (355), Phil Niekro (318) Tom Glavine (305), Al Spalding (253) and John Smoltz (213).

Not getting win No. 200 isn’t the only piece of personal history that Hudson was denied. He’s now winless in six career starts in Denver, though he did fare better than in his past outings, when he posted a 8.04 ERA.

But like Hudson’s last outing when he gave up six runs in four innings in taking the loss against the Pirates, he ran into some trouble early against the Rockies.  

A ground-ball specialist throughout his career, Hudson is inducing grounders just 51.4 percent of the time this season, which stands as the lowest of his 12 years in the majors. That rate has been largely due to his hanging balls up in the zone and has resulted in five home runs in five starts. By comparison, Hudson went 10 starts before giving up that many HRs in 2012.

He allowed a second-inning home run to Michael Cuddyer on a 75-mph curveball and then Josh Rutledge sent a splitter to the left field seats four pitches later.

“A couple of pitches I would have obviously liked back,” Hudson said. “A couple of hangers — hanging curveball, hanging change up — and they didn’t miss them. This place, games can get away from you pretty quickly here and I was able to settle down and start making some pitches.”

Hudson (3-1) did just that. Outside of a Chris Nelson triple and a run-scoring infield hit by Tyler Chatwood in the fourth he would pitch three 1-2-3 innings and also got into the act at the plate.

He singled home Juan Francisco in the fourth and not that he’s going to be on manager Gonzalez’s shortlist for pinch hitters, Hudson, who was 1-for-3, is now hitting .364 (3-for-8) with two RBIs on the season.

3. Next stop: Motown

It gets no easier for the Braves as their 11-game road trip culminates with a trip to Detroit to face the defending American League champion Tigers for a three-game set.

While the Tigers are struggling, dropping their last four games and scoring five combined runs in their last five contests, including games of 13 and 14 innings, this remains a dangerous lineup — and one that can match Atlanta in a power vs power matchup.

Though it wouldn’t seem that way on paper.

The Tigers rank third in the majors with a .274 average and are fifth in on-base percentage (.338), while the Braves are 14th (.251 BA) and 12th (.327 OBP). Meanwhile, Atlanta leads MLB with 35 homers to Detroit’s 12 (25th).

But with the likes of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to match up with the Uptons, Gattis, etc., the onus is going to be on a Braves staff that boasts an MLB-best 2.38 ERA.

Paul Maholm (3-1, 1.03 ERA) will get the start Friday vs. Anibal Sanchez (2-1), followed by Kris Medlen (1-2, 2.16) vs. Rick Porcello (0-2) and Mike Minor (3-1, 1.80) vs. Doug Fister (3-0, 2.00).