Braves stop losing streak by beating Brewers

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Five observations from the Braves’ 6-3 win over the Brewers in Milwaukee on Friday night:

ExploreAcuna out of Braves' lineup

1. Another promising start

After a dismal April in which he posted an 8.05 ERA, Drew Smyly had his second consecutive encouraging start for the Braves. He pitched six innings, allowing just one run (earned) and three hits. He induced a double-play grounder with two on and one out in the sixth to end his night’s work.

The outing followed a May 6 start at Washington in which Smyly pitched six innings and allowed one run (unearned) on four hits. The past two starts, eight days apart, have lowered his ERA to 5.23.

“Like I’ve been saying all year, it’s a long season,” Smyly said. “You’ve just got to keep trying to build off of it and learn and work in between starts and just keep it going and get on a roll.

“I feel pretty good. I think my fastball was really good tonight. That is the pitch that gets everything in motion, and from there it’s just sequencing right and mixing speeds and trying to keep them off balance.”

He’s happy to distance himself from the season’s opening month.

“Baseball is a mental game. It always has been, always will be,” he said. “You’ve got to have a short memory and stick to the plan and maintain your confidence. When you lose your confidence, that’s when things start spiraling out of control in this game.”

Braves 6, Brewers 3 (box score)

2. A wild inning

Brewers starter Adrian Houser walked three batters and hit another with a pitch in the third inning, his wildness fueling a two-run rally that put the Braves ahead 2-1. Two base runners, both of whom had walked, scored on Austin Riley’s hard-hit single off Houser’s right leg into center field. The Braves led the rest of the way.

Houser’s night ended after the third inning, by which point he had thrown 65 pitches (32 strikes). He walked five and allowed two hits and was fortunate the Braves cashed in only two runs against him. They stranded six baserunners through three innings.

3. Back-to-back homers

Marcell Ozuna’s struggles against left-handed pitching may be subsiding. He hit a 439-foot home run off the center-field scoreboard against Brewers lefty reliever Eric Lauer in the fifth inning. Ozuna’s simulated “selfie photo” as he rounded third base drew boos from the disapproving Milwaukee crowd.

“That’s my thing,” Ozuna said. “Everyone has their own style, you know.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

After starting the season 0-for-18 against left-handers, Ozuna has six hits, including four for extra bases, in his past 19 at-bats against lefties.

“It’s been hard for me since the season started to get the feeling like it was last year,” Ozuna said. “Every day, I try to find something. ... I started slow and then I’m getting strong.”

Ozzie Albies followed Ozuna’s homer with one of his own, a 425-foot shot to center, marking the Braves’ first back-to-back homers of the season and giving them a 4-1 lead.

Overall, Albies has reached base in 17 consecutive games, the third-longest such streak of his career, and has hit safely in 16 of the 17. Ozuna has hits in 14 of his past 17 games. Still, Albies is hitting .231 and Ozuna .216 for the season.

4. Inciarte’s return

Ender Inciarte returned from the injured list and started in center field. He made a superb defensive play in the seventh inning, covering a lot of ground and making a leaping catch at the wall. He showed no after-effects from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for almost a month.

“I told Ender, ‘Well, I’ve seen that movie before,’” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I’ve seen him do that many times. He’s about as good as there is at getting back to a ball and taking a homer away.”

At the plate, Inciarte went 1-for-4 with a bloop hit in the eighth to drive home William Contreras (who tripled to lead off the inning) with the Braves’ sixth run.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

5. Adding on

Add-on runs, including one on a Dansby Swanson sacrifice bunt that scored Freddie Freeman from third base in the seventh inning and another on Inciarte’s RBI in the eighth, provided some cushion that allowed the Braves to carry a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

Back-to-back home runs by Luis Urias and Manny Pina to start the inning off reliever Josh Tomlin suddenly cut the lead to 6-3. Closer Will Smith entered with one out and the bases empty, and he successfully closed out the game as the Braves stopped their losing streak at three.

“Just hitting to situations -- Dansby executed the safety-squeeze to a tee -- is big,” Snitker said. “As we’ve seen in these games, those extra runs are huge. Make a productive out. With the infield back and a runner at third, just ground out. Bases loaded, just knock the guy in from third, not all of them.”

By the numbers

11: Players currently on Milwaukee’s injured list. The Brewers have had 19 players on the IL at one point or another since spring training.

He said it

“I always expect a lot of myself. I know injuries haven’t let me have the continuity I wish. I just need to stay healthy. I can’t say that I will stay healthy, because in the past I have said it so much and it hasn’t been that way. So I just hope I can do everything I can to stay healthy, and anytime I get the opportunity try to take advantage of it.” – Ender Inciarte