Things are going well for Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell right now.
Ervin Santana, the high-priced newcomer to the Atlanta Braves rotation, dazzled in his debut on Wednesday against the New York Mets. After eight innings, he still hadn’t allowed a run across the plate. He allowed just three hits and struck out six Mets batters, which is not an overwhelming accomplishment considering Lucas Duda & Co. are fanning more than any other team in baseball, but for at least one night, Santana looked just like the $14 million man Atlanta wanted him to be when they brought him in to fill the top-of-the-rotation spot for the injured Kris Medlen.
Oh yeah, and he became the first guy in at least 15 years to throw his first 20 pitches for strikes. Manager Fredi Gonzalez said he’d never seen anything like it.
In terms of game score, Santana submitted the second-best outing by any pitcher in baseball this season — he scored an 82, behind only Mark Buerhle’s 8 2/3-inning, 11-strikeout blanking of Tampa Bay ranks higher. That is an eye-opening fact considering the former Kansas City Royal is still working himself into shape after facing live batters for the first time about a month ago. It doesn’t look like there is much work left to do. Here are Santana’s best career game scores (with a brief, but not all-encompassing statistical description of his outings):
Had Santana been in midseason form, stamina-wise, and had Gonzalez left him in to pitch the ninth inning with a four-run lead — a lead reliever Jordan Walden nearly relinquished before Craig Kimbrel came in for a messy, mop-up save — the 31-year-old likely would have challenged those scores. Following Wednesday’s outing he now has 11 career starts with a game score of 80-plus, meaning he’s off to a career-best start.
It was also one of the best pitching debuts in Braves history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other pitchers have thrown at least eight shutout innings in their Braves debut since the the team relocated to Atlanta: Greg Maddux (1993) and Derek Lowe (2009). The Braves would obviously prefer the Hall of Famer — Maddux won his second Cy Young award that season — but it goes to show how rare occasions like Wednesday night truly are.
Santana’s excellent outing comes on the heels of a surprisingly successful run for the franchise’s temporary four-man rotation of Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Aaron Harang and David Hale, a group that allowed just eight runs in seven starts. With their big-time free agent newcomer now in the fold, the Braves’ starters have allowed just eight runs in eight starts now, good enough for an MLB-best 1.37 ERA. For some context, 17 big league pitchers have allowed more runs than Atlanta’s entire starting staff this season. For more, our writers discuss Santana’s debut and the team’s excellent pitching start in the latest episode of the Chopcast: