Braves’ bullpen gives up four runs in series finale loss to Rays

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Despite recent bullpen troubles, Braves manager Brian Snitker says he won't apologize using any man on the 26-man roster.

Braves manager Brian Snitker was left speechless after Sunday’s game.

For the tenth time this season, he watched his bullpen carry a lead into the seventh inning and lose.

The loss doesn’t fall on the shoulders of just one pitcher. Instead it was a two-man effort, giving up four runs in the seventh inning en route to a 7-5 loss to the Rays.

After left handed starter Drew Smyly went 5-2/3 innings with just three runs and Jesse Chavez picked up the final out of the sixth inning, A.J. Minter entered the game.

A year ago Minter was the most clutch reliever the Braves had, posting a 0.83 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 22 appearances.

Sunday, the 6-foot lefty allowed two hits for two runs and recorded just one out. Joey Wendle hit a single to lead off the inning. Kiermaier’s RBI-double tied the game at 4 with no outs. The Braves had a meeting on the mound before Kiermaier stole third base. Meadows then hit a sac-fly to give the Rays the lead again.

Opponents are hitting .342 over Minter’s last 25 appearances.

“He still probably has the best stuff in our bullpen as a pitcher,” fellow reliever Luke Jackson said of Minter. “Ground balls find holes and sometimes they find people. It sucks sometimes. Sometimes you get those double plays. Others it’s a nine-hopper to the infield and it starts snowballing.”

The snowballing continued when Minter was pulled and Luke Jackson replaced him as boos rattled down from all over the ballpark. Jackson allowed a double from Francisco Mejia and then Yandy Diaz homered to make it 7-4 Rays. Stephen Vogt was able to get a pick off at 2nd, but that was the only positive the Braves could muster in the top of the seventh frame.

Rays 7, Braves 5 (box score)

The seven runs were all the Rays needed to earn the series win.

“They all have a track record of succeeding,” Smyly said of the bullpen. “It’s tough to lose a game, whether you lose it in the first inning or the ninth inning. It’s a nine inning game.”

After Minter and Jackson’s four runs, Josh Tomlin and Shane Greene were able to quickly close out the final two innings. Greene used just six pitches to earn his three outs.

But the struggle with the bullpen is an issue that Snitker really doesn’t have an answer for.

“I don’t know,” he said when asked directly about the problem with the bullpen. “You have to have a short memory when you’re a reliever. We will play today and reevaluate tomorrow.”

All six pitchers used were forced to throw to a catcher they hadn’t played with this season in Vogt, who the Braves acquired Saturday.

Defensively, Vogt did what he was supposed to by framing the pitches well, working with Smyly’s calls and even throwing out Wander Franco at second to shorten the sixth inning by one out.

At the plate he was even better, going 3-for-4 with three hits, an RBI and two runs.

Braves new catcher Stephen Vogt follows through on a single in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, July 18, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)
Caption
Braves new catcher Stephen Vogt follows through on a single in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, July 18, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

“Stephen did a great job with a guy he had never caught before,” Snitker said. “Very impressed with what he did, how he swung the bat, how he caught, the whole thing.”

Jackson credited Vogt for how he was able to immediately stand behind the plate and adjust, having never worked with this pitching staff.

“He threw a guy out for me which was huge,” Jackson said. “To be honest, it has to be the hardest thing to get a catcher that wasn’t with you guys in spring training and go out there and catch you guys on the first day.”

But Vogt’s success and the lingering excitement of Joc Pederson’s second start with the Braves wasn’t enough to overcome the fall off of the Braves relievers. Pederson, acquired Thursday from the Cubs, hit two more RBIs and is 4-for-9 with four RBIs and a two-run homer in his first three appearances.

The Braves enter Monday four games out of first place in the NL East. The Padres come to Truist Park for three games before the Braves play eight-straight road games against the Mets and Phillies.

It’s the crucial two week stretch that those in and around the club have talked about since May. The same people still believe that a fourth-straight division title isn’t too far out of reach.

“Until we’re eliminated, I think we can win it,” Snitker said. “I’ll never apologize for using anybody on my 26-man roster. They’re all capable of doing good and helping us. I’ll never apologize for doing that.”

First pitch from Truist Park Monday is set for 7:20 p.m.