Ian Anderson’s poor start leads to Braves’ loss to Angels

Head hung, Ian Anderson slowly walked from the mound to the dugout after manager Brian Snitker pulled him from the game in the fourth inning following a shaky start reminiscent of others he has turned in this season. Minutes later, the broadcast camera showed Anderson sitting on the dugout bench and staring toward the field.

This is not how he wanted to open the second half.

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A little more than a week ago, Anderson said his first half did not turn out how he had hoped. He intended to turn around his performance in the second half. After all, he had so much success – including in the postseason – over his first two seasons in the majors.

But Anderson doesn’t look particularly close to that version of himself. Known for his even-keeled nature, Anderson is frustrated by his season.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “It’s been tough probably all season, honestly. Just not performing the way I want to. Probably the worst stretch of baseball I’ve had in my life.”

Anderson allowed five runs in the first inning – and was charged with seven over three innings – as the Braves lost to the Angels, 9-1, on Sunday at Truist Park. It was ugly.

Atlanta (58-39) won the series, but its failure to sweep the Angels means this team will have to wait at least another day to take first place from the Mets. The Braves’ loss pushed them to one game behind New York, which hadn’t yet played when Atlanta’s game finished. But there are two-plus months to go.

The more immediate issue is this: Anderson, who has had an up-and-down season, registered one of his worst starts of the year. The seven runs are tied for his highest total (he allowed seven on June 30 in Philadelphia). His ERA ballooned to 5.31, his WHIP to 1.58. He doesn’t know why he hasn’t been able to be consistent.

“That’s a good question,” Anderson said. “That’s kind of where I feel like I’m at right now, just searching a little bit. Felt like I really turned the corner, threw a great bullpen. I was surprised with how today went, kind of. I felt like I was going to throw the ball great.”

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In Sunday’s first inning, eight straight Angels reached against Anderson, beginning with Taylor Ward’s solo home run. Anderson served up five consecutive hits. Max Stassi, Jo Adell and Andrew Velazquez hit run-scoring singles, and the Angels scored another run on a grounder. The Angels batted around.

Snitker yanked Anderson in the fourth inning, after he issued a walk and gave up a single to put runners on the corners. Jackson Stephens entered to clean up the mess, but the inning soon became worse.

Ronald Acuña fielded a single in right field and fired a throw to third baseman Austin Riley that sailed wide of Riley and out of play, allowing a second run to score instead of keeping that runner at third base. That runner appeared to be more than halfway to third base after rounding second when Acuña picked up the ball, and it didn’t seem like anyone would have made that play.

The throwing error, which was bad, did little to affect the outcome. Anderson didn’t pitch well in his first start after the All-Star break. He strung together three solid outings to end the first half, allowing a combined four runs in those, but it’s fair to wonder how much of that success was due to facing the Nationals in two of those starts. Anderson faced traffic in all three, whether due to walking batters or giving up hits.

And on Sunday, Anderson recorded only nine outs. Of 74 pitches, only 41 were strikes. He gave up eight hits. At 24 years old, he’s still young and has tons of room for growth. But he hasn’t been able to find much consistency this season.

Asked how long the Braves will allow Anderson to pitch through it before making a change, Snitker said: “I don’t know. Personally, that’s up to (president of baseball operations) Alex (Anthopoulos). … I’ve seen what he can do, I know what he can do, I’ve got a lot of faith in him. Those calls aren’t mine.”

Of Snitker and Anthopoulos, Anderson said: “They’re great. They’re helping me out a ton. I feel like they’re behind me, so that’s always good. I know I can pitch better, they know I can pitch better. I feel like the last three were great, so to kind of go out today and throw a stinker, it’s tough.”

By the time Acuña stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the first inning, the Braves trailed by five runs. Their offense, fueled by home runs, can overcome such a deficit. But it didn’t happen on this day, as the Braves didn’t record their first hit until the fourth inning and remained quiet throughout the contest. Their only run scored in the seventh on Acuña’s single.

This is only one loss. In the bigger picture, the Braves are set up to go to the postseason for the fifth straight season.

But Anderson’s struggles might be a concern.

“I’ve got a lot of trust and faith in Ian,” Snitker said. “He’s learning, he’s maturing. Fighting through these fights that he is is going to make him even stronger and better down the road, is how I feel.”

Angels 9, Braves 1 (box score)