With last Tuesday’s loss fresh in their minds, when a 1-0 deficit had never looked so large, the Braves faced Jose Fernandez and the Marlins Tuesday, knowing there wasn’t much room for error.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez stacked the Braves lineup with lefties. Tyler Pastornicky took a chance on scoring from third on a grounder back to Fernandez on the infield. Alex Wood knew better than to try to repeat his feat of a career-high 11 strikeouts again, so he didn’t bother.
But it all just played right into Fernandez’s hands. He beat Wood at the pitch-to-contact game, deked Pastornicky on the infield play, and cruised – not only by last Tuesday’s standards by anybody’s – to a 9-0 win.
The rematch of Fernandez vs. Wood turned into no match at all, after Wood gave up a career-high 10 hits and was charged with seven earned runs, one more than he had allowed in his first five starts of the season.
“They made some adjustments from last week and any time you have back-to-back starts against a team that swings it well at home, that’s tough in and of itself,” said Wood, whose ERA climbed from 1.54 to 2.93. “You can’t make a whole lot of mistakes and obviously there were a whole lot of mistakes made by me tonight, a few I wish I had back.”
Fernandez pitched eight shutout innings for the second straight time against the Braves, this time allowing only two hits. He “only” struck out eight this time, not his career high 14, but he ended his outing with a flourish – striking out the side in the eighth. And he coaxed nine groundball outs, against a lineup weighted with five lefties.
Fernandez is now 3-1 in four starts against the Braves, allowing only three earned runs in 29 innings (0.93 ERA), while walking seven and striking out 35.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to beat Fernandez,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “…You still got to beat Cy Young every once in a while.”
Fernandez moved to 12-0 with a 1.00 ERA in 19 career starts at Marlins Park where the love fest for the Cuban sensation and defending NL rookie of the year continued. The Braves, meanwhile, have lost only twice in their past seven games, both to Fernandez by a combined score of 10-0.
“It’s one of those things we’ve just got to put behind us if we lose 1-0 or 9-0, it’s still a loss,” Freddie Freeman said. “We’ve got to go on against (Nathan) Eovaldi tomorrow.”
When the Braves have runners second and third of a 0-0 game in the third inning, Fernandez got the better of Pastornicky on a groundball on the infield by Ramiro Pena. Fernandez fielded it and gave Pastornicky his best pump fake – faking a throw to first base. Then he threw home after Pastornicky broke for the plate and got him for the third out of the inning.
“Maybe we score first on that ball that Pena hit, play at the plate,” said Gonzalez, who credited Fernandez for making a savvy defensive play. “If we tally that up, it may end up being a different story.”
The Marlins came back with a three-run bottom of the third inning, starting with a Christian Yelich triple, ending with a Giancarlo Stanton two-run homer. Ed Lucas singled in front of Ryan Doumit in left field to keep the inning alive.
Stanton, who got Wood for a two-run double a week ago, made it a two-run home run this time. Stanton had pulled an inside change-up a week ago. This time he sent a curveball to the opposite field, into the Marlins bullpen in right field.
“It was a hanging breaking ball, tried to go backdoor breaking ball and I left it over the plate,” Wood said. “A guy that strong, even if he hits it off the end of the bat he’s probably up in the air. And you make a mistake, the guy is probably going to put it out of the ballpark. You can’t afford to make mistakes up here, much less make a mistake to a guy like that.”
Wood’s seven runs allowed matched his career high - also against the Marlins last Sept. 1. Three of his 10 hits allowed came by Lucas, a former Braves farmhand, who came off the disabled list Tuesday to extend his hitting streak to six games against the Braves.
Wood said after last Tuesday’s start, he knew it would be hard to trying to top his 11-strikeout night. He put his efforts into pitching ahead in the count, pitching to contact. But it was clear by the fifth his night had gotten away from him. He gave up a leadoff walk before allowing three straight hits – including a two-run single by Marcell Ozuna – before he was replaced by Anthony Varvaro.
Fernandez, meanwhile, gave up only hits to Jason Heyward and Doumit. He was just as effective against the Braves Tuesday night when they were aggressive early in the count as he was last week when he had them on their heels with two strikes.
“I think that’s everybody’s game plan when a guy can throw any pitch for a strike, you just want to go up there and try to get the best pitch you can,” Freeman said. “Sometimes that’s the first pitch. That’s what we were trying to do tonight but Jose’s good. Every pitch he’s able to throw for a strike. And he’s able to put that same pitch – if you swing and miss and get to two strikes – at your ankles too.”
“He’s just one of those guys you’ve got to battle. Now he’s got us three times. We got him one. We’ve got to see if we can do something different next time.”