Three Cuts: Unlikely bats help Braves get to Haren; Marlins take series
ATLANTA — For the first time this short season, the Braves have lost consecutive game and they’ve dropped their first series.
Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the Marlins at Turner Field was a sour ending to the home stand. But a 3-3 home stand has Atlanta tied for the National League with six wins.
"That’s the goal, obviously, to win series and we didn’t get it done this time," said first baseman Freddie Freeman. "But so far, so good. We’re off to a good start."
Here are three thoughts from the series finale vs. Miami:
Dan Haren’s career numbers against the Braves aren’t dominant, posting a 4.50 ERA in 10 appearances (including nine starts). But the last two seasons he’s been improved. with the right-hander posting a 1.71 ERA in four games in that span.
From that end, it wasn’t a surprise that the Braves went 5 2/3 innings without a hit against the 34-year-old.
"He hit his spots," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "It’s hard to score some runs when you have three hits. It’s hard to score runs when you don’t have people on base."
What was surprising is who ended that drought and who supplied Atlanta with its first run.
Kelly Johnson came in hitting .429 vs. Haren in with a 17 plate appearances with five doubles, but he came up short in his first two at-bats. So did Jonny Gomes, who has hit .214 in 14 trips to the plate against him. Only Nick Markakis with 28 at-bat vs. Haren has seen him more, but he sat out Wednesday’s game.
It was Andrelton Simmons, who was hitless in five previous at-bats that broke through for Atlanta with a two-out, ground ball base hit up the middle.
An inning later, Cameron Maybin — a .111 hitter vs. Haren in 10 meetings — sent an 86-mph four-seam fastball to center field for a solo home run, his second the year.
As an aside, Maybin already has more home runs than he’s had in any of the last three seasons. While it’s early, hitting coach Kevin Seitzer seems to have had a profound impact on the outfielder. His current 30 percent line drive rate is a career-high and a 13-point jump from a year ago.
Johnson would restore order in the seventh inning, hitting a one-run home run that was actually the first of his dealings with Haren.
"I think I just had to do something a little different myself," Johnson said of his final at-bat vs. Haren compared to the first two. "There wasn’t anything I was looking for. I had a couple of pitches I wish I would have pulled the trigger on or hit and hit better. That one I felt like I made an adjustment to let me stay through it a little better."
Haren would exit after seven innings, allowing the three hits with five strikeouts and two walks. His teams have now won their last five starts against the Braves, with Haren picking up four of those wins.
Eric Stults started strong in making his debut in the Braves’ home opener against the Mets, but exited having allowed three runs and seven hits in five innings.
There were shades of that same start vs. the Marlins after he faced the minimum over the first two innings (thanks to Christian Bethancourt throwing out Dee Gordon on a stolen base attempt after a leadoff single).
But then Stults walked J.T. Realmuto to open the third inning after going up 0-2 before allowing a single to Adeiny Hechavarria. After a Haren sacrifice bunt, Gordon put Miami up 2-0 with a double to left field.
Realmuto and Hechavarria, Miami’s Nos. 7 and 8 hitters, were a combined 5 for 6 with three RBI and two extra-base hits.
"Obviously you look and the lineup and you worry about the three, four, five guys," Stults said. "But today the bottom of the order did a good job. They hit some mistakes and drove the ball and that falls on me."
That same part of the Marlins’ order go to him again in the fifth as Hechavarria followed a Realmuto double with his first home of the year.
Stults got through that inning without any further damage, but gave way to Cody Martin with an ERA that’s now up to 6.30 and he’s allowed 2.7 home runs per nine innings. Both of those figure are the highest Stults has posted since he had a 6.00 ERA and gave up 3.0 HR/9 with the Rockies in 2011.
"I don’t think we’ve seen the Stults that we want to see," Gonzalez said. "I think he’s a guy that can get you deep into a ballgame."
As discussed after Trevor Cahill’s rocky debut on Tuesday, the back half of the Braves’ rotation is a question mark, one that’s under a bigger microscope with no timetable on Mike Minor’s return.
It will be intriguing to see how Stults responds in his next scheduled start on April 22 at the Mets, and what happens should he struggle again.
Gonzalez had seen enough of Martin in long relief that the leash on Juan Jaime shortened (so much, in fact, that he was designated for assignment after his first appearance of the season) and Martin was moved into more high-leverage situations.
He’d been strong so far, allowing two hits and in 5 1/3 innings with nine strikeouts, zero walks and zero earned runs.
After Stults’ struggles, Martin took over in the sixth and after striking out Giancarlo Stanton and getting Martin Prado to ground out, Martin allowed his first run of the season as Michael Morse hit a solo bomb to center.
More trouble came in the seventh as Realmuto and Hechavarria hit back-to-back singles and after striking out Haren, Martin was replaced by Luis Avilan.
It was a hiccup against a team he’s already seen for the third time this season, as Martin pitched April 7 at Miami and in Monday’s series opener.
The next time he sees New York and Miami, it will be worth watching to see how the 25-year-old adjusts.
Despite Wednesday’s ups and down, given Martin — who now has a 1.35 ERA and in 6 2/3 innings — this: he continues to throw strikes. He has yet to yield a walk in 24 batters faced.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney