Behind a captivating (and powerful) eighth inning rally, the Braves beat the Dodgers 3-1 Saturday night. Here are three observations from the game:
1. The Evan Gattis Movie script gets its latest scene
As Dodgers manager Don Mattingly made his first move to his bullpen Saturday night — taking out his starter, Chris Capuano, for hard-throwing Kenley Jansen — Evan Gattis walked over to chat with the MLB’s home run leader.
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Gattis was primed to pinch hit with Atlanta down 1-0 in the eighth inning.
Justin Upton had a few words of advice.
“I wanted to make sure it was the right guy because when he was running it I thought it was (Ronald Belisario),” Gattis said. “Jansen throws a lot of cutters. And Justin’s faced him a lot and I remember him saying something about him in the advance meeting. So I wanted to go just talk to him, and whatever info I could get going into an at-bat is going to help, especially at a time like that.”
The scouting report was spot on. Following a high inside fastball, the Dodgers reliever peppered Gattis with cutters. He kept fouling them off, staying alive, battling. For a rookie, he’s shown an uncanny knack for such situations, and his reputation is beginning to proceed him. Eventually, Jansen threw that cutter down and in.
The two-run shot over the left field fence put the Braves ahead for good and ignited the crowd of 38,615. It was the 26-year-old’s eighth home run of his young career, his second as a pinch-hitter. The moments keep presenting themselves, and Evan Gattis keeps coming through. His shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, followed suit with a solo home run to provide some insurance, but it was simply window dressing: Atlanta was not about to relinquish such an emotional high.
Even with relievers galore littering the Braves’ disabled list (Jonny Venters, Jordan Walden, Eric O’Flaherty), it’s tough to picture the Braves organization sending Gattis to the minors to free up a roster spot. He’s proven he belongs in the majors whether he plays behind the plate, at first or in left field, but at the very least he’s a dangerous bat off the bench.
Besides, where would the Braves be without moments like Saturday night’s?
“He likes these moments,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “There was nobody in our dugout that wouldn’t want him up in that situation. He’s that guy.”
2. Medlen’s run support is troublesome
In Kris Medlen’s best start of the season — seven innings pitched, zero earned runs, two hits and five strikeouts — the Braves bats were once again silenced by an opposing starting pitcher. Some would call that tough luck. But a closer look at Medlen’s season reveals this is turning into a trend — perhaps an epidemic for the melodramatic types.
Yes, the Braves eventually improved to 24-18. However, entering Saturday night’s game, only Brewers starter Kyle Lohse had received less run support (2.13 runs per start) than Medlen, who was tied with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in receiving just 2.33 runs per start.
Translation: On average, Medlen better hold a team under two runs if he wants to walk away with a win.
The Braves did not score a single run with Medlen on the mound.
“He pitched a heckuva ballgame,” Gonzalez said. “I think he was ready for one of these games. You saw it in his prior starts. You saw four or five innings, two or three innings. Now, we saw seven innings of him being the Medlen that we saw last year.”
Added Medlen: “That’s our offense in a nutshell, too, you know? Shutting us out the entire game. One inning, just waiting for our offense to explode.”
While his statistics are far removed from last season’s ethereal run, it is interesting to point out that the blame for the right’s ugly 1-5 start does not rest fully on his arm. While toting a rotation-worst 4.79 FIP entering the Dodgers game (bound to be much lower this time Sunday), he now has a 3.02 ERA — far better than his record would suggest. His strikeout rates are down and his walk rates are up, but Kris Medlen has not lost it entirely.
His pseudo-gem on Saturday is exactly the type of outing the Braves feasted on during his 23-game streak last season, but Cory Gearrin walked away with the win.
He’s just not getting much help when the ball is in his hands.
3. Chris Johnson keeps at it
Johnson, who received the start at third base against the Dodgers, could very well be in the league’s most-improved-player conversation this season. After a lull to his torrid start, he is once again producing at a high rate — higher, certainly, than the Braves could have expected when pulling the Justin Upton deal.
With a 0.8 WAR despite platooning with Juan Francisco, Johnson is tied for the second-most field player on the Braves’ roster thus far, trailing only the younger Upton.
Following his sixth three-hit game of the season — Johnson was the only Atlanta batter that could figure out Capuano, who shut down the Braves yet again — that value is again on its way up. He’s now batting .339 with three home runs and 12 RBI.
That’s excellent production for what looks to be the team’s Nos. 6 or 7 hitter as the season progresses.