After seven of nine runs against Bartolo Colon were unearned in 2 1/3 innings Tuesday against the Angels, the oldest big-leaguer lugged his majors-worst ERA back to the mound Monday against the lowly Phillies in a homestand opener.
This time he gave up eight runs in 3 2/3 innings, and every one of them was earned.
Colon, aka “Big Sexy,” had another ugly performance in an 11-4 loss to the Phillies at SunTrust Park, and now the question is whether the Braves keep the 44-year-old in the rotation for another start, move him to the bullpen, or dump him from their roster altogether either before or after Bartolo Colon bobblehead night Friday.
“We’re going think about it going forward,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, who for the first time wouldn’t say the plan was for Colon to make his next start. “Haven’t made a decision yet about the next one. We’ll just see.”
Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte had two hits and two walks in his first four plate appearances to run his streak to 10 consecutive times reaching base vie hit or walk, before he grounded out to end the game. It was tied for the third-longest such streak in Atlanta franchise history.
Rookie infielder Johan Camargo added a double and a two-run triple for the Braves, who’ve lost eight of 12 games and three in a row at SunTrust Park. In each of the past two home games, Colon put them in a huge hole early.
There were some boos mixed with polite Atlanta applause as Colon (2-7) walked off the field, pulled after giving up a two-run single to Cesar Hernandez that pushed the lead to 7-0. He allowed seven hits, a home run and two walks with four strikeouts in the latest of a string of performances he knows could force the Braves to make a difficult decision.
And when reliever Sam Freeman gave up a homer to the next batter, Odubel Herrera, it tacked another run on Colon’s ledger and pushed the lead to 9-0.
“It beats you down,” Snitker said of the early deficits that have been common in Colon’s starts. “We’ve come back a lot. Those long half-innings and having to come back, it’s just…it’s not good. It’s not healthy, and it’s tough to do.”
Colon has a 10.03 ERA and .380 opponents’ average in his past eight starts, allowing 39 earned runs and 63 hits (eight homers) in 35 innings in a career-worst slide, in addition to nine unearned runs.
“To be honest it’s been hard,” Colon said through an interpreter. “My entire career I’ve never had a start to the season that’s gone this way, so…. You know, that’s baseball. I’ve just got to try and keep going and get out of it.”
He pitched fewer than six innings in eight consecutive starts, twice as long as the previous worst such streak of his 20-year, 512-start career.
“Physically and mentally I still feel good,” he said. “Right now I’m just in a bad streak. All I’ve got to do is just try to work my way out of it. God willing, I can.”
His next scheduled turn would be Saturday in a doubleheader against the Mets, his former team. The Braves probably can’t afford to tax their bullpen the way they’ve had to in each of Colon’s past eight starts, especially in a doubleheader.
“The whole thing — everything,” Snitker said of factors to consider in determining Colon’s fate. “The personnel, team, the whole thing…. We’re getting ready to play a lot of baseball this week, so we’ve got to factor in all those variables in determining getting through the next nine days.”
Asked what he thought of the bullpen possibility, Colon said, “I’ve spent my whole career obviously as a starter, I’ve never been a relief pitcher. But, you know, if the manager or management decides that’s the route they want me to take, I’ll take it.”
The last-place Phillies came in with a majors-worst 19-35 record — no other team had fewer than 23 wins before Monday – but against Colon and Braves relievers, Philadelphia’s Nos. 2-4 hitters, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Tommy Joseph, each had three hits including a two-run homer apiece.
Colon entered with a 6.99 ERA that was easily the highest among 91 major league qualified starters before Monday; that climbed to 7.78. His .325 opponents’ average was also the worst among all starters before Monday; that climbed to .332.
He was remarkably successful in four age-40-and-older seasons before this one, going 62-40 with a 3.59 ERA while averaging nearly 195 innings during that period, including one season with Oakland and the past three with the Mets.
The Braves believed he could do it again, or come close, so they signed the former Cy Young Award winner to a one-year, $12.5 million contract when the free-agent period began in November. But instead of ageless wonder, the portly Colon has looked his age.
The upper-80 mph two-seamers that he threw with pinpoint accuracy to baffle hitters in recent years? Many are in the mid-80 mph range now, up in the strike zone and not located on the inside and outside corners as often.
“He’s still changing speeds pretty well, but it’s a lot more effective when you’re down in the zone and you’re able to get ahead of guys,” Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said.
Snitker said, “At times today, he did (locate well). But when he missed, he really paid for it. He missed big. Or fat, I guess you’d say.”
Like the 85-mph first-pitch, belt-high sinker to Joseph in the first inning. He drove it the second seating deck in left field for a two-run homer and 3-0 lead four batters into the game. Herrera had doubled with one out and scored on Altherr’s single before Joseph’s blast.
Colon retired the next six batters before Herrera doubled again in the third inning. Joseph’s two-out double pushed the lead to 4-0 before Colon picked him off to get out of the inning without further damage.
He issued a one-out walk to Michael Sanders before Andrew Knapp’s RBI double, the fourth double off Colon. Another walk and a sacrifice later, Colon gave up a two-run single to Hernandez. That was his 85th and final pitch.
Flowers was asked about the difficulity of trying to help out a struggling veteran who has such vast experience.
“It’s tough any time anybody’s out there and doesn’t do well, or doesn’t do what we expect,” Flowers said, “Not just on me but everybody. You try to do the best you can with whatever information you can share to try and help them. But I think a lot of it is in his control, between his ears. Executing pitches, those kind of things, you know?”