Braves officials said they weren’t concerned about having a strikeout-prone lineup this season, but even they have to concede this is pushing the envelope when it comes to whiffing.
Anibal Sanchez set a Detroit Tigers record with 17 strikeouts in eight inning of a 10-0 rout against the Braves in a series opener Friday night at Comerica Park. The Braves struck out 18 times in all.
“He was pretty good, and we weren’t,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose postgame session with reporters lasted just 12 seconds. “That’s about it, boys. That’s all I’ve got for you.”
The Braves (15-7) still have the best record in the National League, but have lost six of their past nine games including five of eight on a 10-game trip that concludes with two more this weekend against the Tigers.
They’ve been shut out three times in nine games, and for the season the Braves remain unbeaten when they hit at least one homer and winless when they don’t.
Paul Maholm (3-2) was pummeled for 10 hits and eight runs in 3 2/3 innings of his worst start as a Brave, and Matt Tuiasosopo had a career-high five RBIs for the Tigers, who scored all their runs in the third and fourth innings.
“Obviously I didn’t pitch good,” Maholm said. “It seemed like every ball hit, we’re one step away. We didn’t swing it very well, so you tip your hat to Anibal…. It sucks. We’re going to have a couple of games like this during the season. You move on and get ready for the next one.”
Sanchez (3-1) dominated the Braves, allowing five hits and one walk in eight innings while collecting 17 strikeouts to surpass Mickey Lolich’s franchise record of 16 for a nine-inning game. Sanchez struck out at least two in seven of eight innings, and struck out three in the second and eighth.
Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman each went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts for the Braves, and Juan Francisco was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.
“As a team we take pride in being good hitters,” said Uggla, who struck out every time up in his first game in the No. 2 spot in the order. “We know that we’re going to swing and miss sometimes, but we’re not going to dwell on it, that’s for sure. We’re going to come back and make the adjustment. We’re (ticked) off, we’re embarrassed. But that’s baseball. He pitched a great game.”
The season is but 22 games old, and already Braves hitters have struck out at least 16 times in three games, and 13 times in two others.
“He was working his off-speed a lot today,” said Andrelton Simmons, who had two of the five hits against Sanchez, and one strikeout. “I think we were too aggressive against him, and he used that to his advantage. He made us chase a lot. He made good pitches, though. Got to give it to him. It was his night.”
It was the most strikeouts for Braves hitters since they had 18 against the Phillies on May 6, 2011, when Cliff Lee struck out 16 in seven innings.
“You get conscious of it,” Simmons said,”like in the fifth inning you see, hey we’re not making contact.”
The Braves have 203 strikeouts, a pace for 1,494 in a full season. The major league record is 1,529 by the 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks, the only team that’s ever struck out more than 1,400 times.
“If people want to worry about strikeouts, they can worry about strikeouts,” Uggla said. “We’re not worried about strikeouts. We can strike out 18 times and hit two three-run bombs and win a game. You never want to see that, and obviously it doesn’t happen too often.
“We’re definitely going to get back to the drawing board tomorrow and make the adjustment to give ourselves a better chance to put some runs across.”
Sanchez was 4-11 with a 5.42 ERA in 17 career starts against the Braves before Friday. But the former Marlin has been a different pitcher this season — and the Braves are striking out like no other Atlanta team has before.
The right-hander has three more losses against the Braves than he has against any other team, and Sanchez pitched Friday like he trying to get even in one night.
“Yeah, he was throwing a lot of stuff out of the zone,” Simmons said. “Or maybe when you’re taking he throws a fastball and now you’re behind in the count and chasing again… His slider and changeup were pretty good, pretty deceiving.
“(We’ve) just got to let it go. Just forget about it, come back tomorrow. It’s kind of good we’ve got a game tomorrow. Just go home, rest up and be ready for the next game.”
After allowing no runs in his first 25 1/3 innings this season, Maholm has been charged with 11 runs in his past 4 2/3 innings, including three in the sixth and final inning of his Saturday loss at Pittsburgh.
It was Maholm’s worst start as a Brave, surpassing a Sept. 12 loss at Milwaukee in which he was charged with nine hits and eight runs (six earned) in 4 1/3 innings.
“Baseball is a humbling game,” Maholm said. “Obviously I was pitching really well, and the last whatever (innings) I’ve given up some runs. You kind of forget about it and get ready for the next one. In five days I’m going to face the Nationals, and it’s not going to matter whether I put up zeroes today or not.”
The last time he gave up eight earned runs in a game was against the Cubs in Chicago on Aug. 30, 2010, when Maholm was tagged for nine hits and eight runs in 3 1/3 innings. He also gave up 11 hits and eight earned runs in 5 1/3 innings of a July 2010 game at Colorado.
The Tigers needed neither the assistance of high altitude of Coors Field nor hitter-friendly winds of Wrigley Field. They did get a fortunate bounce when B.J. Upton’s throw from center field bounced off the top of the pitcher’s mound, erasing a potential third out in the third inning, when the score was 1-0.
The Tigers got a run on that play, then one walk later Tuiasosopo drove in two more with a single to left field.
In a matter of minutes they had opened a 4-0 lead, and the Tigers poured it on in the next inning with six runs including Tuiasosopo’s three-run, two-out homer off reliever Anthony Varvaro. Maholm gave up four hits in a five-batter span, with Victor Martinez’s RBI double pushing the lead to 7-0 and sending Maholm to the showers.
Varvaro took over and gave up a walk and the three-run homer to the first two batters he faced. He didn’t allow any more runs in his 3-1/3 innings, but the damage was done.
“Whenever you face that lineup you’ve got to be on your game,” Maholm said. “Obviously I wasn’t.”