Freeman had three hits in each of Sunday’s games, giving him six in eight at-bats. He’s been fighting through his own slow start, and a return to Philadelphia — one of his favorite venues in which to hit — along with the Phillies’ lackluster pitching was his remedy.
The Braves’ first runs of game 2 came via Freeman’s two-run homer. It turns out Freeman predicted the shot: He wished friend and former teammate Jason Heyward a happy 31st birthday Sunday morning, saying he’d hit a home run for him since the Cubs weren’t playing.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good at the plate the last couple days,” Freeman said. “I’ve been hitting better. I knew I was close. Batting practice has been pretty good for me. Everything clicked well for me today so hopefully I can keep this going.”
Credit: Atlanta Braves
Braves slugger Freddie Freeman talks about his approach after getting three hits in each of Sunday’s doubleheader games in Philadelphia.
Credit: Atlanta Braves
When asked about Acuna, Freeman added: “I don’t think Ronald needed any anybody else on his team today. He took care of everything today. Pretty amazing to watch. He’s a talent that doesn’t come around very often in this game. For us to witness it and be a teammate of his, it seems like he does more special things every single year. You can tell he was about to get hot. Pretty, pretty special day. Waking up, then going to bed with three homers and five hits, he’s going to be sleeping real well tonight.”
In game 2, the Braves scored four runs off Spencer Howard, the Phillies’ top pitching prospect who was making his debut, in 4-2/3 innings. They took advantage of the Phillies’ terrible bullpen afterward, scoring four runs in 1-1/3 to build an eight-run lead.
Acuna — and the Phillies’ bullpen — was also the story in game 1. Trailing 1-0 through four innings, the Braves broke through with a five-run fifth against two Phillies relievers.
It started with Tyler Flowers, whose lead-off single chased Phillies starter Vince Velasquez. An out later, Acuna slammed reliever Deolis Guerra’s hanging change-up into the left-field seats.
Just like that, a 1-0 deficit and 13-inning scoreless streak became a 2-1 lead. It was Acuna’s second homer of the season and his first in eight days. Including his electric game 2, Acuna has reached base in 20 of his past 39 plate appearances after a dreadful start.
“He’s up and down now, really battling to get himself consistent and where he wants to be,” manager Brian Snitker said. “But I see improvement. He’s working. That kid set the bar so high, as long as he keeps working at it, he’s going to be fine.”
As is often the case, Acuna was the team’s spark. And his homer wouldn’t even be the biggest hit of the inning.
Philadelphia’s bullpen, which has been abysmal, couldn’t slow the Braves. Dansby Swanson’s single forced Phillies manager Joe Girardi to make another pitching change, bringing in lefty Adam Morgan, a Kell High School (Marietta) product.
Freeman greeted Morgan with a single. Marcell Ozuna drew a six-pitch walk to load the bases with one out.
Snitker had the upper-hand over Girardi. He pinch-hit for Markakis, bringing in southpaw slayer Adam Duvall. Due to the new three-batter minimum rule, Girardi couldn’t pull the plug on Morgan. That haunted the Phillies: Duvall rocketed a double off the left-field wall that cleared the bases.
“That’s the one thing (about the new rule), you can get the matchup you want sometimes out of that,” Snitker said. “That’s one thing that the three-batter thing can work for you. On the flip side, you can get a matchup you don’t really want either (when pitching). It’s give and take, I guess.”
Duvall’s handiwork capped a monstrous inning for the previously apathetic Braves offense. He added another hit to top off a strong game. Duvall has resembled his pre-Braves form this season, looking more like the slugger he was in Cincinnati. Duvall has gone 7-for-13 with three extra-base hits against lefties.
“He’s swinging the bat like he used to,” Snitker said. “He’s feeling good. I’m happy as I can be. I hope he continues it because it can’t happen to a better person.”
Credit: Atlanta Braves
Braves manager Brian Snitker on the first start of Huascar Ynoa's career: "Him going into the third was an added plus a little bit going into the inning."
Credit: Atlanta Braves
Notes from Sunday:
⋅ In the first start of his career, Huascar Ynoa did what the Braves needed in game 1. Snitker declared him the starter following Saturday’s game, saying there was no concrete plan for how long Ynoa would go.
The 22-year-old covered the first 2-1/3 innings, allowing one hit. Neil Walker had singled to begin the third, and after getting the first out, Ynoa walked Andrew Knapp, leading Snitker to make a change. Tyler Matzek allowed Walker to score, giving the Phillies the lead, but prevented further bleeding.
Ace Mike Soroka suffered a season-ending injury last week, and Sunday was the first time his turn had come up since. The Braves had planned to do a bullpen game, which was easier given the seven-inning format. Ynoa provided what they’d hoped.
“Honestly, when we started, I was thinking two innings out of Ynoa,” Snitker said. “He was pretty efficient so we figured we’d try him again. He hadn’t been out there. I could tell he was getting tired, too. But he did a great job. … Him going into the third was an added plus a little bit going into the inning.”
⋅ Left-hander Will Smith showed his value in his debut (game 1). The Phillies had already scored one run off Luke Jackson, and after Jackson walked Rhys Hoskins, Snitker turned to Smith with two outs in the fifth.
Smith, whom the Braves signed to a three-year deal last winter, missed summer camp and the start of the season after testing positive for COVID-19. He rejoined the team in recent days, but the Braves had been waiting for the right spot to use him.
The 31-year-old walked Bryce Harper, bringing up Didi Gregorius, who could’ve tied the game on one swing. Smith instead had Gregorius pop out in foul ground on the first pitch, easily escaping his first stressful moment.
“He was good,” Snitker said. “It was good to get him out there. You sit around and wait, there’s never a perfect time to get a guy in that first game. If we waited, it might be next week. But I felt good about him in that situation. He’s been through that a lot. It was good to get him out there, breaking a sweat, and get him on the mound.”
⋅ Fried was impressive again in his game 2 start. Fried scattered four hits over five scoreless innings. He struck out six and walked one, lowering his ERA to 1.59 through four starts.
Fried twice won important battles with Harper. Hoskins stood at second with two outs in the third after a double, and Fried struck Harper out. He also got Harper to fly out with the bases loaded to conclude his effort.
“Max has an incredible left arm,” Freeman said. “I’ve been telling you guys for three years how special that arm is. He’s putting it all together now. Every time he steps on the mound, you know you have a real good chance to win that game. When Max comes on the mound in a 60-game season, you have to win 10, 11 of those games because that’s our ace now. He’s been pitching like it. It’s been a big start for him.”
⋅ The Braves and Phillies will play their series finale Monday, when Sean Newcomb faces Phillies ace Aaron Nola. The Braves have secured at least a four-game split, losing Saturday but winning twice Sunday.