Three Cuts: La Stella gets defensive as Braves fall to Mariners

Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella robbed Dustin Ackley of two hits, including once with this diving stop in the ninth inning.

Daniel Shirey/Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — A four-run first inning had the Braves on track to give Gavin Floyd his first win of the season.

But with Floyd laboring and Alex Wood giving up a two-run home run to John Buck in the seventh inning, the Mariners dealt Atlanta a 7-5 loss Tuesday at Turner Field.

"We scored five runs early and we just let them hang around and stay in the game and they beat us," said manager Fredi Gonzalez.

Here are three observations from the Braves’ loss, including Tommy La Stella’s defense and B.J. Upton’s hot streak:

It was what Tommy La Stella can do at the plate the largely propelled him to a spot on the Braves roster.

While he continued to show that side of his game, going 2 for 4 to sit at .421 through 22 plate appearances — and registering his first career strikeout, which came 20 PAs in — the second baseman also displayed a defensive acumen in his Turner Field debut that rails against the expectations.

"Anytime the scouting report says ‘lacking defensively,’ you want to be able to kind of put that to rest and help the team, so it’s nice," La Stella said.

Dustin Ackley hit a chopper over pitcher Gavin Floyd’s head in the fifth inning, which La Stella caught off the bounce, taking four quick steps toward second base before firing toward an outstretched Freddie Freeman. La Stella would rob Ackley again in the ninth, diving to the left into the grass before throwing to Freeman.

"It comes with practice and having game experience with it, but I feel good going to my left," he said.

La Stella, whose joining the Braves promoted articles discussing "so-so physical tools" and "below-average defense" entered Tuesday with a minus-21.9 UZR/150 in 35 2/3 innings and had already made a costly error when a Chris Johnson throw got away from him Thursday in Boston, allowing the Red Sox to win 4-3.

But showings like he had Tuesday can go a long way toward curbing any perceived limitations about his work with his glove.

"He made a couple of balls that were difficult look easy," said manager Fredi Gonzalez.

B.J. Upton feasted on Erasmo Ramriez’s first-pitch curveball, sending it to dead-center field — over 400 feet — and continuing what’s been a relatively strong three weeks for the oft-criticized center fielder.

The elder Upton went 2 for 5 on Tuesday with that aforementioned fifth fifth homer of the season and two runs scored and since May 19, he’s hitting .267 (15 for 56) over the past 15 games with two HRs, six RBI and four multi-hit games.

"I got a good feeling what’s going on right now," Upton said.

While he’s still hitting a pedestrian .221/.296/.357 on the year and his last three at-bats Tuesday were strikeouts — of which Upton said he "was irritated about" — this latest outburst can’t be ignored. He’s getting on the basepaths with a .353 OBP in the last 15 after that number sat at .272 before, and most importantly, he has 11 strikeouts in that span. That equates to a 19.6 rate compared to the 39.1 rate he posted over the first 39 games of the season.

You have to go back to 2008 to find the last time Upton struck out less than 24.3 percent of the time and that also represented the best OBP of his career at .383.

The question is, will they stick? That we’re debating whether a player who has performed at this level can maintain before says a lot about Upton’s time as a Brave, but at least he’s trending toward his past successes.

Throughout his first five starts post-Tommy John surgery, Gavin Floyd had yet to allow more than three earned runs — three times he yielded just one — and while Tuesday was more of the same, it was in many ways his shakiest start with the Braves.

It also came against an opponent that knows Floyd, who spent seven seasons with the White Sox, all too well.

Floyd entered with a 4.73 ERA in 14 starts vs. the Mariners — his fifth-highest of any team he saw at least 10 times — and they had hit a collective .277 against him, with the current players coming in at .244 in 86 at-bats. Seattle had also tagged him for 10 homers in 16 games, seven by the active roster.

"When you make 35, 32, 33 starts a year, you’re going to have a bad one," Gonzalez said. "Today is maybe one of those starts."

The Mariners got to him for two first-inning singles en route to 17 of the first 18 batters making contact, which included RBI singles from Brad Miller and James Jones in the second and Stefen Romero’s three-run home run in the fourth. The two second-inning runs were unearned, a byproduct of a Chris Johnson throwing error, but in all, Floyd ave up a season-high 10 hits in five-plus innings with four strikeouts and a walk.

Rebounding won’t be easy. On normal rest, Floyd’s next start would come at the Rockies, against whom he has a 5.40 ERA in four starts, though he was solid in his only outing at Coors Field allowing two runs in seven innings. But that came three years ago and this Colorado team leads the majors with 6.75 runs per game at home.