Braves lose to Orioles in Cole Hamels' debut

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Cole Hamels throws a pitch to the Baltimore Orioles during the third inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Cole Hamels throws a pitch to the Baltimore Orioles during the third inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Credit: Julio Cortez

Credit: Julio Cortez

Cole Hamels’ debut is no longer a “when” or “if.” The left-hander’s much anticipated arrival came to fruition Wednesday night.

Hamels allowed three runs on three hits in 3-1/3 innings against the Orioles, who defeated the Braves 5-1 to win the series. The Braves haven’t won a series in Baltimore since 2004.

In his first start since Sept. 28, 2019, Hamels retired six of the first seven Orioles before Austin Hays began the third inning with a double. He walked Andrew Velazquez on six pitches and surrendered another double to Hanser Alberto, which scored the Orioles' first run.

Velazquez scored on Jose Iglesias' grounder, pushing Baltimore’s lead to 2-0. Ryan Mountcastle’s sacrifice fly added the third run. Hamels coaxed a grounder from Pedro Severino to end the inning.

Renato Nunez’s lineout to open the fourth was Hamels' final out. He was lifted at 52 pitches (34 strikes), which was right around where he and the team expected him to be in his first appearance.

“It looked like he might’ve gotten a little tired,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It was his second outing (he pitched a simulated game) of the year, really. We did what we wanted. He got him four ups and 50-something pitches. I thought early on it was really good. If he feels healthy tomorrow and when he does his side and all that, that’ll be fine.”

Hamels evaluated his performance, saying: “I felt like I was able to locate all my pitches, mix and match. Just running into that third inning. I hung a few change-ups there. I know, especially to those guys late in the lineup, you have to get those guys out. I can’t walk that No. 9 hitter (Velazquez). I think that there is what shifted the game. I have to be able to not give in, get him out, keep things in a better pace and my control. I can’t let that happen.”

Hamels yielded mixed results, generating 25 swings on his 52 pitches. He induced seven whiffs, three of which came against his change-up. His eight curveballs earned four called strikes and a whiff. He used all four of his pitches, which he was satisfied with, but felt he could’ve established his fastball better.

Determining whether Hamels can be a difference maker will require multiple looks. The Braves are increasingly more comfortable with their rotation – which also includes Max Fried, Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright – but that also assumes Hamels is serviceable.

While Hamels believes he’s on the right track, he won’t make excuses for what he deemed an unsatisfactory showing.

“A three spot is definitely not the number you want to put up,” Hamels said of his night. “If you’re giving up one, possibly two – for me, (three) is unacceptable. I have to be better. This is the part where, no matter if it’s the beginning of what I’m trying to do, I’ve obviously done this for a long time and I need to be able to put up zeros. I need to get those guys out.”

As Hamels continues building his pitch count over the next two starts, it will become clearer what he can provide the Braves in October. The first step was getting him on the mound, and after a frustratingly long rehab process from shoulder and triceps injuries, the 36-year-old can finally look ahead to a second outing.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Cole Hamels, center, is pulled from the game by manager Brian Snitker, left, during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Cole Hamels, center, is pulled from the game by manager Brian Snitker, left, during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Credit: Julio Cortez

Credit: Julio Cortez

Notes from Wednesday:

- Ronald Acuna is in a funk. The Braves' All-Star lead-off man is 1-for-21 (and 0 for his last 18) with 13 strikeouts and three walks over his last six games. Acuna is a streaky player, so the Braves will hope he catches fire sometime during the next 10 games and carries it into the postseason.

- Freddie Freeman scored the Braves' only run on a balk; it was that kind of night. Orioles starter Keegan Akin navigated the Braves' lineup with ease, striking out nine and allowing three hits over five scoreless innings.

“Our guys were having funny swings against him,” Snitker said. “Evidently he hides the ball well. We didn’t react to him real well. He was throwing 92 (mph) or something but it looked like he was throwing 100. He was very effective. It was a little something they hadn’t seen, I think.”

The Braves had three hits and one unearned run against four Orioles relievers. They drew only one walk on the night. Travis d’Arnaud was the only Brave with multiple hits, going 2-for-4.

- Marcell Ozuna went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, ending his eight-game hitting streak. Ozuna hit .361 (13-for-36) with one homer, one double and eight RBIs over the run.

In a rarity, Ozuna made a bigger difference with his glove. He leaped, reached over the left-field wall and stole a home run from Nunez in the fourth inning.

- Josh Tomlin allowed two runs over 2-2/3 innings following Hamels. Jacob Webb and Tyler Matzek each pitched a scoreless inning to finish the game. The Braves' bullpen will be in good shape when they resume playing Friday.

- The Marlins defeated the Red Sox, 8-4, trimming the Braves' National League East lead to 2-1/2 games. The Braves' magic number stayed at nine. Notably, the Braves host the Marlins for four games at Truist Park next week.

- The Braves will enjoy their final off day in the regular season Thursday. They’ll finish their road schedule with three in Queens, beginning Friday night, before closing with a seven-game homestand. Max Fried will return from the 10-day injured list to face the Mets Friday.