5 takeaways from Braves’ 3-2 opening-day loss to Phillies

Atlanta Braves' Pablo Sandoval (48) hits a two-run home run off Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola during the seventh inning of an opening day baseball game, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Caption
Atlanta Braves' Pablo Sandoval (48) hits a two-run home run off Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola during the seventh inning of an opening day baseball game, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Credit: AP

The Braves lost to the Phillies, 3-2 in 10 innings, on Thursday afternoon in Philadelphia. While it was a frustrating defeat, it was only the first contest of a 162-game marathon.

Here are five takeaways from Thursday:

1. The Braves’ most positive opening-day event was Pablo Sandoval’s pinch-hit homer. With his team trailing 2-0 in the seventh inning, Sandoval belted an 0-2 pitch from Aaron Nola over the right-field wall. It finished Nola’s afternoon and gave the Braves a chance to steal a game in which they had trailed the entire day.

One of the largest concerns with the Braves entering the season was their bench offense. Sandoval’s blast quells some worries, if only for a brief period. He showed he can be a player to suddenly enter and tie the score with one swing, and that’s an element many felt the Braves lacked. If Sandoval keeps up his offensive success from spring and Thursday, the Braves’ bench will be viewed in a much different light.

ExplorePhotos from the Braves' season opner

2. In his first opening-day start, Max Fried never looked comfortable. His command was spotty throughout the day. He suffered several bad breaks. He had only one 1-2-3 inning, the second. Yet when the dust settled, Fried allowed two runs on six hits in five innings.

Fried required over 30 pitches in the third inning, in which he had some sour luck, but the Braves also were helped by a questionable review and strike out. Bryce Harper appeared to beat the tag sliding into third, but the review upheld the original out call. The inning ended with two Phillies stranded as Didi Gregorius struck out on a borderline check-swing call.

To Fried’s credit, he prevented the game from eluding the Braves’ reach. Take the fourth inning, for instance, when Fried held the Phillies scoreless despite a single and rare throwing error by Freddie Freeman. The Phillies had two runners on with one out, but Fried got a force out from Andrew McCutchen and struck out Rhys Hoskins to get out of it. He racked up eight strikeouts total.

“He just wasn’t real sharp, but he did what good pitchers do: He gave us a chance to win,” manager Brian Snitker said.

3. The Braves live and die by aggressive base running. In the 10th inning, Ozzie Albies briefly hesitated then jetted home from third on Marcell Ozuna’s shallow pop-up. Phillies outfielder Roman Quinn fired home to catcher J.T. Realmuto, who tagged Albies and ended the inning.

Albies didn’t say much about the play following the game, just confirming third-base coach Ron Washington told him to “go” on the play. Snitker wondered if the hesitation cost the Braves a go-ahead run, adding, “I didn’t know what happened.”

Fortunately for the team and player, Albies is OK after the bang-bang play. The Braves are one of the more aggressive base-running teams, so there will be plenty more instances when it makes the difference in games. It just didn’t favor them Thursday.

“100 (times) out of 100, we have to go right there,” Snitker said.

4. Cristian Pache made his first opening-day start in center field donning Andruw Jones’ No. 25, having switched from No. 14. Pache, 22, didn’t have the opportunity to show off his stellar defensive ability, but he made several routine plays and went 1-for-4 with double and two strikeouts.

Pache just missed a bases-loaded double down the right-field line in the eighth. He struck out on a 100-mph pitch from Jose Alvarado later in the at-bat (the Phillies’ bullpen already looks much improved from last season’s disaster). It was a good at-bat that didn’t yield results. Pache’s growth will be among the more interesting subplots to follow over this Braves season.

5. During an in-game interview on the Bally Sports South broadcast, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Mike Soroka could rejoin the rotation during the team’s second homestand, which runs April 23-29 against the Diamondbacks and Cubs.

Soroka, 23, has been working his way back from a torn Achilles that ended his 2020 season after three starts. He’ll be built up to five innings before he’s activated. Soroka’s return would be a gigantic boost for a rotation the Braves already feel is in good shape.

“Our second homestand, somewhere in that homestand we’ll probably find a spot to put him in the rotation if he continues doing well,” Anthopoulos said.

Stat of the game

0-1 (The Braves have already lost as many of Fried’s starts this season as they did last. They went 10-1 in his 11 outings during the truncated season. They begin the 2021 campaign 0-1 with their prized southpaw pitching.)

Quotable

Snitker on the extra-inning rule, which was implemented last season and places a runner at second to start every extra inning: “I still like it. I think it does add a lot to the game. We had a chance, and they took advantage more of theirs than we did, I guess. It’s just one of those things.”

Next up

The Braves are off Friday and resume their series with the Phillies on Saturday. Charlie Morton will make his first start back in a Braves uniform against Phillies righty Zack Wheeler.

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