The calendar is just turning to March so Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez can shrug off the incongruity between the high expectations and shaky results for pitchers Paul Maholm and Craig Kimbrel.
“I just see spring training,” Gonzalez said after the Phillies got to two of his more consistent pitchers in a 10-5 victory Thursday. “For me, I want to see these guys keep getting better and keep getting sharper as spring progresses. Sometimes, even though we want to throw zeroes up there (in) spring training, we are not going to see that.”
Maholm got that when he pitched two perfect innings against the Yankees in his spring debut. But it was clear early that things wouldn’t be as smooth for the left-hander against the Phillies.
Maholm walked lead-off batter Ben Revere then allowed a single to Chase Utley and a double down the right-field line to Ryan Howard. Utley and Howard scored when second baseman Tyler Pastornicky mishandled a ground ball but both runs where charged to Maholm.
Maholm was scheduled to pitch three innings but gave way after getting two outs in the third and with his pitch count pushing above 70. He gave up five earned runs and six hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
Maholm only had a couple rough outings among his 11 starts for the Braves in 2012 after they acquired him in a trade with the Cubs. He said a poor bullpen session carried over into the game.
“Things were just a little off,” Maholm said. “It’s early in camp, my second time out. Camp is about trying to get back in the groove and getting the mechanics where they need to be.”
Maholm said he didn’t throw any breaking balls in his first start but mixed some in against the Phillies because that’s normally how he works out the kinks in his mechanics. Utley cracked a double in the third but, otherwise, Maholm said he didn’t think the Phillies hit him hard.
“I threw a few good change ups,” he said. “I threw some good first-pitch curve balls. Got some swings and misses on sliders. It’s not the results I obviously want to have, but I think this is a step forward because I know what I need to work on between now and April.
“Whenever I get into (pitching) four, five, six innings—then it’s time to get in the groove of setting up pitches and hitters.”
Kimbrel had his second consecutive sub par outing, at least by his standards. He was fifth in voting for the National League Cy Young Award after in 2012 after he converted 42 of 45 save chances with 116 strikeouts and a 1.01 ERA.
Kimbrel came on in the fifth inning and gave up a lead-off home run to Howard, the first of the season for the Phillies slugger. Darin Ruf also doubled off Kimbrel in the inning.
Kimbrel allowed two hits also two runs (one earned) with a walk in one inning. He also allowed two hits and one earned run in one inning against the Marlins on Monday.
“From my first outing until now, (from) what happened on the field it doesn’t look like I’ve gotten further along,” he said. “But the way I feel, and my pitch location and stuff like that are better. I’m not all over the place since first outing. It’s a process. That’s why we are down here.”
Kimbrel is scheduled to leave Braves camp Sunday to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic. “We will try to throw him one more time (before then) and send him on his way and hope he comes back in one piece,” Gonzalez said while jokingly clasping his hands in prayer… .
Pastornicky and Braves third baseman Chris Johnson each homered for the first time this spring… .
Braves outfielder Justin Upton doubled off the wall in center in the first inning. After starting 0-for-6, Upton has four hits in his last seven at-bats with a home run and the double… .
Maholm was hit in the foot by Michael Young’s ground ball in the third inning but stayed in the game. He said the ball hit the tongue of his shoe more than his foot.