Another short start dooms Braves in fourth consecutive loss

The Braves have lost 147 games from the start of the 2018 season through today. In few of those nights did they play worse than they did Friday in Miami, according to their manager.

Fresh off their first day off following 20 consecutive games, the Braves returned with a dud, losing 8-2 to the Marlins. Kyle Wright pitched three innings, walking six – including four in the third frame – and allowed three runs.

It was the Braves’ fourth consecutive loss, dipping their record to 11-10. They’re two games behind the Marlins (9-4) in the National League East. The Braves went 15-4 against Miami last season, but are 0-1 to start the new one.

“We probably played one of our poorest games in the last two years, quite honestly,” manager Brian Snitker said.

Once again, a Braves starter couldn’t give his team five innings. In fact, Braves starters have failed to even exceed four innings in 11 of 21 outings. It’s obviously an unsustainable formula, one that’s finally catching up to the team after an 11-6 start.

After throwing 21 pitches over two scoreless innings, Wright required 40 pitches to finish the third. The unwinding frame was ignited by Wright’s common nemesis: walks.

Wright walked speedster Magneuris Sierra, who stole second. Jonathan Villar doubled him in to tie the game. Following the inning’s second out, Wright completely lost command of the strike zone in a fashion similar to his first start against Tampa Bay.

The right-hander issued three consecutive two-out walks, the final of which scored the go-ahead run. He strayed away from his fastball, which helped him in the first two innings (including a four-pitch first), opting for his secondary pitches that couldn’t find the zone.

“The first two innings were pretty good, then the misses were big in the third inning,” Snitker said. “He got away from his fastball in that inning. I don’t know. It happened to him in Tampa. He threw four fastballs in the first inning, and we said alright, here we go. Then the second inning. Then it just – the stuff is there. He just has to conquer the mental part of this. This is why we’ll keep running him out there, so he can figure out the mental part of it.”

Snitker only allowed Wright to face one hitter in the fourth. He walked Eddy Alvarez, who’d later score with reliever Grant Dayton on the mound. The Marlins would add another five runs off the Braves’ bullpen (four of which came against Luke Jackson).

“I’ve been coming out of the gates hot, pitching well those first couple innings, then having road bumps in the middle,” Wright said. “I got out of whack and lost command. It’s as simple as that. I beat myself today.”

Wright always identifies the problem. He knows every start has boiled down to consistently throwing strikes. But the results haven’t changed. Wright simply can’t find his footing after the first couple innings.

“It’s as simple as throwing strikes,” he said. “I feel like sometimes I try to be a little too fine as those innings go over the second time through the lineup. You really can’t change anything. You have to keep attacking hitters. If they put it in play, they put it in play. I have to make that beat me. I can’t beat myself.”

Over recent days, the Braves offense hasn’t done enough to overcome poor pitching. On Friday, it couldn’t do much period. Marlins righty Pablo Lopez allowed two runs over his six innings, and Miami’s bullpen prevented the late surge that so often propels the Braves.

“I’ve really liked that guy from the first time I saw him,” Snitker said of Lopez. “He’s got a live arm. He commands his pitches well. It’s quick. That balls gets on you. That change-up is really good. He’s a nice looking pitcher. I love his delivery. He doesn’t panic, stays in himself, and the stuff is live. He was pretty good tonight.”

Notes from Friday:

- Catcher Travis d’Arnaud is proving a tremendous offseason addition. His first-inning homer off Lopez extended his hitting streak to eight games. It was his third homer over that span. He’s earned a hit in 10 of his 11 games.

“I’m just taking things easy and trying to keep things simple,” d’Arnaud said. “I’ve been talking to a lot of veterans on the team about their thought processes at the plate. Just trying to transfer it over into the game and fortunately I’ve been getting some good results.”

- The assumption was once the Marlins returned from their virus-induced absence, they’d drop down the standings as they usually do. That hasn’t been the case yet, with Miami looking every bit like a first-place team against the reigning two-time division champs.

“They’re footloose and fancy-free right now,” Snitker said. “They’re hitting the ball, taking the next base, they’re aggressive. They all run. They do a lot of things. We saw that in the exhibition games. With that young pitching, this team is a good club. They’ve done a good job of balancing everything they have here. You have to make pitches. You can’t walk these guys. They can go first to third, score from first, they steal, they do all the little things really good.”

Wright added: “Maybe not big names (in their lineup), but they have some good hitters. I thought they had a lot of good at-bats. They took some good pitches and put the ball in play. … They had tough at-bats. They forced walks. They’re feisty. They’re scrappy. They battle every at-bat. They’re not an easy at-bat. They’re a good lineup.”

- Lefty Max Fried starts for the Braves on Saturday, which should be a breath of fresh air on the mound given what’s transpired in recent days. He’ll oppose Marlins youngster Daniel Castano.

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