On Miller's struggles, Braves' losing and Gonzalez's feeling of support

Shelby Miller of the Braves sits in the dugout after allowing a four-run first inning against Washington Tuesday night. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Shelby Miller of the Braves sits in the dugout after allowing a four-run first inning against Washington Tuesday night. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

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On May 17, Shelby Miller was 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA with the Braves, Jason Heyward was hitting .244 after a 0-for-4, two-strikeout night for the St. Louis Cardinals and Braves executive John Hart probably had his feet up on his desk, smoking a stogie.

But one of the Braves' big trades of the winter doesn't look like such a grand success today.

Miller is 44 days removed from his last win. Heyward, after a .217 April, went on to hit .284 in May and .329 in June (with a .892 OPS, a combination of on-base and slugging percentages).

Miller actually hadn't been horrible of late, compiling a 2.70 ERA despite seven straight winless starts. But he was a train wreck early in Tuesday's loss to Washington, allowing the Nationals a four-run first inning. These Braves aren't built/duct-taped to climb out of holes like that. They lost to the Nationals 6-1 in the opener of a three-game series.

Miller left after five innings, having allowed five runs (four earned) and eight hits. He has gone eight consecutive starts (three losses, five no decisions) without a win.

"It happens to everybody, you just have to put it behind you," Miller said of the first inning, when he allowed a single and a double to the first to batters, then an RBI single and a two-run homer to Clint Robinson. "It was a bad inning to happen at that time. It's a tough thing to come back from."

This stretch won't help Miller's All-Star chances, nor does it give the Braves much hope for the rest of this series. Not that anybody really expects them to compete for the National League East title but they're now seven games back. (Their elimination number is 79. I was bored. I did the math.)

I don't want to bang on Miller much because the truth is he has exceeded expectations in Atlanta and nobody should have ever viewed him as the staff ace. That role belongs to Julio Teheran, even if Teheran (4.94 ERA) seems to have forgotten that.

The Braves are now 36-41, which projects to a 76-86 finish. That's slightly above what most expected -- their over/under win total in Las Vegas was 73½ -- but they're trending in the wrong direction with six losses in their last seven games.

Who should take the blame for this? Not manager Fredi Gonzalez.

I know Gonzalez is a wonderful target for a loud segment of the fanbase on social media. But there is only so much a manager can do with a team that went through 44 players, 56 defensive lineups and 69 batting orders in the first 76 games, and just called up two more relief pitchers, Nos. 20 and 21 of the season.

I spoke to Gonzalez before Tuesday's game and he said he feels supported by management. Actually, he said he feels more supported by this regime (John Hart and John Coppolella) than he has at any time of his career. If you want to read between the lines on that about his relationship with former general manager Frank Wren, you're welcome to.

For the full column on Gonzalez and the Braves, click here.