Three Cuts: Pena, Braves strike first vs. Nats
Taking three cuts after the Braves' 6-4 come-from-behind win over the Nationals on Friday in Washington D.C.
1. Round 1 goes to the Braves
Statements are rarely made in April, especially in the first of 19 games between division rivals.
But with the belief that the National League East will come down the to Braves and Nationals, this series understandably feels much bigger than an early-season meeting -- and it makes the dramatic way in which Atlanta won the opener all that more impressive.
A team that came in tied for the NL lead in home runs -- largely behind the power of Justin Upton -- got them from unlikely sources as Ramiro Pena hit just the third HR of his career in the 10th inning and Chris Johnson added his first in a Braves uniform.
Atlanta, though, largely got back into this game playing small ball.
They scored once in the eight to cut the Nationals lead in half as B.J. Upton worked Tyler Clippard for a bases-loaded walk. Then in the ninth, Johnson's third hit of the ninth was followed by a bunt single by Pena, a Jason Heyward walk to load the bases and then Justin Upton reached on an infield single off a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error and two more runs scored as Atlanta tied the game at 4-4.
"We just kept plugging away, plugging away, scoring some runs and we set it all up for Ramiro Pena," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Pena would give the Braves their first lead an inning later as he took a two-seam fastball from Craig Stammen to right field for a two-run blast to give the Braves their seventh straight win and extended the best record in baseball to 9-1.
"I just tried to concentrate and get a good pitch to hit and I didn't miss it," Pena said.
"We say this all the time … I think had this guy been in the National League," manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Pena, who spent his first four seasons with the Yankees, "I think he would be a household name. He's a prototypical National League player. … What a pickup on that young man."
There are still two more games to play in D.C., the next of which comes with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, and after allowing nine hits, four walks, and six runs against the Reds his last time out, it's tough to imagine him having consecutive bad outings.
But to deliver the Nationals their first home loss of the season, and in dramatic fashion, the Braves couldn't have asked for a much better way to start their season-long race with Washington.
2. A tale of two Julio Teherans
Just like he did in his first start of the season against the Cubs, Teheran ran into early trouble against the Nationals.
He allowed a two-run home run to Bryce Harper and back-to-back singles to Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond in the first inning, then gave up RBI singles to Denard Span and Jayson Werth in the second.
But he found his footing, facing the minimum in the third and fourth innings, and while he issues walks to Harper and LaRoche in the fifth, he didn't give up a hit and struck out Desmond to end any scoring threat. He would end his night with a 1-2-3 sixth inning capped by striking out Detwiler.
"He gave up four runs in the first couple of innings and then (catcher Gerald Laird) changed the game plan and went someplace else," Gonzalez said. "Then (Teheran) gave up two runs the rest of the way."
At 22 years old and with nine major league starts over three seasons under his belt, Teheran remains very much a work in progress but he's at least showing signs of the prowess that made him the organization's top-rated prospect for the last four years.
3. Who's second-guessing Gonzalez?
Some downplayed Gonzalez's talk that he could use the Gattis at first base, believing he had to be half-joking.
After all, Gattis last played the position for seven games in '11 for Class-A Rome and didn't even field any grounders there with the major league club until Thursday's off day. But it was brought up by the Braves manager this spring and the way Gattis has been swinging -- the rookie entered Friday with three home runs, six RBI, nine hits and a .333 average in 27 at-bats -- he couldn't be removed from the lineup, with Gonzalez opting to go with the veteran Gerald Laird catching Teheran.
As my colleague Zach Dillard pointed out, only 10 qualified first baseman had a positive Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) total last season -- Atlanta's usual first baseman, Freddie Freeman, was among that group with three DRS -- so it far outweighs any defensive deficiencies because what Gattis can do with his bat is so much more valuable than any setbacks his D may cause.
Aside from dropping a Harper pop-up in the fifth inning, after which the Nationals outfielder would draw a walk, Gattis was respectable. The mere fact that Gonzalez was willing to put him out there with little professional experience in a big series speaks volumes. As long as Freeman is out, expect to see more of Gattis at first.