Braves held to one run in loss to Hyun-Jin Ryu, Blue Jays

On a night Sean Newcomb pitched his best start of the season, the Braves offense couldn’t solve an old foe or the opposing bullpen.

Blue Jays lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, formerly of the Dodgers, allowed one hit over five scoreless innings. What transformed into battle of the bullpens resulted in a 2-1 Toronto win at Truist Park.

The Braves entered the night leading MLB in runs scored (69). Yet they generated only one run Wednesday, a 402-foot Adam Duvall homer. They had three hits overall, two from Duvall and one from Travis d’Arnaud.

Their struggles started with Ryu, who’s long been a thorn in the Braves’ side. Ryu pitched a memorable seven scoreless innings against the Braves in Game 1 of the 2018 NLDS. He also tossed a four-hit shutout against the them last May at Dodger Stadium. He entered Friday with a career 2.73 ERA against the team in five starts.

“The cutter, change, he locates really well,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He has great command. It’s hard to get ahold of him.”

Newcomb added: “He’s always mixing in and out. That cutter and change-up are real effective. He’ll bring up 90, 91 (mph) heater to the top of the zone. I’m sure it looks a lot harder than that. When he’s in the zone with his off-speed, like any other good pitcher, he’s usually on.”

To Newcomb’s credit, he kept pace with Ryu. Newcomb pitched 4-2/3 innings, allowing two runs. The first run came after allowing a pair of hits in the second, including a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. double, that positioned Danny Jansen for a sacrifice fly.

Unfortunately for the Braves, the difference in the game slipped through Ender Inciarte’s glove. Inciarte, a renowned defender, attempted a sliding catch with two out in the fifth but was unable to hang on to the ball. It was ruled a single for Bo Bichette, who’d steal second and score the eventual game-winning run on Cavan Biggio’s two-strike single.

“He got a great jump on the ball, just couldn’t come up with it,” Snitker said of Inciarte’s almost-catch. “Probably nine times out of 10 he catches it.”

Newcomb’s night ended on a sour note, but Wednesday brought more positives than his previous outings. He did a better job working through tough situations. His pitch count still built up early, but he showed better command overall. The Braves will hope his latest start is a building block for what’s to come.

“That was encouraging tonight for Newk,” Snitker said. “A lot better than the first two. Hopefully he figured some things out. It was good. He kept us in the ballgame. It was really good. He was a strike away from getting out of the fifth twice. That was encouraging.”

Newcomb relied heavily on his four-seamer, which induced 24 swings on 46 pitches. He also had 10 called strikes on the pitch. Learning how to keep his fastball in the zone is the most important element of Newcomb’s growth. He did so in the bullpen last season but hasn’t found the same consistency since returning to the rotation.

“The spin on (the four-seamer) is tremendous,” d’Arnaud said. “The axis on it is practically vertical so it’s very hard to get to even if it’s right down the middle. Guys are fouling it off. It’s one of those things where they were able to get the timely hits when they needed them.”

Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb delivers against the Toronto Blue Jays.    Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

Notes from Wednesday:

- Duvall’s homer was the Braves’ only run. He also had an opportunity in the ninth, when the Braves had two baserunners and one out, but Duvall grounded into a game-ending double play.

Nonetheless, this season has featured the best Duvall the Braves have seen since acquiring the slugger from Cincinnati two years ago. Duvall is hitting .412/.500/1.324 with two homers in only 17 at-bats.

- Charlie Culberson made his first start for the Braves since last August, manning second base. He went 0-for-2.

Culberson should get more playing time in Ozzie Albies’ absence. Albies was placed on the 10-day injured list Wednesday due to a bone bruise in his right wrist.

- The Braves’ bullpen was outstanding again, pitching 4-1/3 hitless innings following Newcomb. The relievers included Josh Tomlin, Shane Greene, Chris Martin and A.J. Minter. Tomlin notched two strikeouts and Greene fanned the side in the seventh.

“They understand that it’s hard, when you’re not getting consistent starts, to develop roles,” Snitker said. “It’s all hands on deck. They’ve done a great job, an unbelievable job. Some guys are starting to throw better too. They’re improving. We kept the game right there. We just couldn’t get a big hit.”

- Tomlin pitched 1-1/3 perfect innings after producing a flawless frame Tuesday as well. He hasn’t issued a walk in 17 consecutive appearances. His last walk came almost a full calendar year ago, Aug. 7, 2019. Tomlin owns a 1.98 ERA over that stretch (27-1/3 innings).

- Outfielder Nick Markakis made his 2020 debut in the eighth, when he pinch-hit and grounded out to first. Markakis was reinstated from the restricted list Wednesday morning, rejoining the team after initially choosing not to play this season.

- First baseman Freddie Freeman wasn’t in the starting lineup, but he pinch-hit in the seventh, striking out on five pitches. Freeman has appeared in all 13 games this season, though he’s still searching for the production to which he’s accustomed. He has only eight hits in his first 42 at-bats (.190).

Freddie Freeman strikes out during the 7th inning.  Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

- While he didn’t have a hit, Ronald Acuna drew two walks one night after reaching base four times. Acuna has continued to look more patient at the plate, drawing four walks over the past two games. He’s walked six times and struck out only four times in August.

- The Braves and Blue Jays wrap up their series on Thursday. The game will conclude the Braves’ nine-game homestand. Touki Toussaint will oppose big righty Nate Pearson, Toronto’s top pitching prospect.