Kyle Muller lacks command, bats struggle as Braves lose series in Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas — It is still early in the season, but the Braves have not yet figured themselves out.

Atlanta (10-13) on Sunday lost to the Rangers, 7-3, at Globe Life Field. The Braves dropped two of three to Texas, which is not expected to contend this season.

Here are five observations:

1. Another Braves starting pitcher had a homecoming this weekend: Atlanta recalled Kyle Muller, who is from Dallas, to start the series finale because the club pushed back Max Fried to Monday’s game in New York.

The lefty survived only 2 ⅔ innings as he walked six batters and allowed four hits. He departed with the bases loaded and was charged with seven earned runs after Adolis Garcia smoked a bases-clearing triple off Jesse Chavez, one that got just under a diving Travis Demeritte in right field.

Muller said he was not competitive in two of the at-bats that ended in walks.

“I thought I was around the zone for the most part, just wasn’t in it,” he said. “I’ll take that compared to last year, where I struggled because I wasn’t even close. I’d say that’s definitely progress in the right direction.”

He said six walks is nothing to be proud of, but added: “We’re pretty close to figuring it out.”

Of Muller’s 74 pitches, only 39 were strikes. His pitches only got 24 swings. He allowed at least three men to reach base in each of the three innings in which he pitched.

In the second inning, after a mound visit, home-plate umpire Cory Blaser ejected Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz. It appeared he took exception to something Kranitz said as he headed toward the dugout following the meeting on the mound.

2. The Braves trailed by five runs after three innings. They have mounted many comebacks before, but their offense has been inconsistent to begin the season.

Atlanta scored four runs over the final two games against a Rangers pitching staff that ranked 26th in baseball with a 4.48 ERA heading into Sunday.

The Braves on Sunday went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. They grounded into two double plays that stunted innings that had potential. They left seven men on base.

“I think the biggest thing on that is just, in those situations, trying to stick to your strength, not expand, shrink the zone and make him come at you,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “I think, at times – and I know I’m guilty of it – you can almost smell those runners on second and third and you try to do too much.”

Added Braves manager Brian Snitker: “These guys are good hitters, they’re going to hit. It’s not happening right now, but it will. You deal with it, you keep fighting and eventually you come out of it.”

3. It’s early in the season, but the Braves have not looked great against lesser competition: the Nationals, the Marlins and now the Rangers.

The Braves will now head to New York for four games against the first-place Mets, who are off to a great start. Their deep pitching staff just no-hit the Phillies, and the offense seems improved from a year ago.

This will be quite the test for the Braves. And unlike their West Coast trip, they now have Ronald Acuña back. (Though he is still getting back in the swing of things).

“There’s definitely going to be, I would say, a sense of urgency,” Riley said. “It’s the Mets. They’re hot. That’s a big rivalry there.”

4. Matt Olson has cooled off a bit.

Over his last 11 games, he’s 6-for-44. A sign of how hot he started the season: Despite a recent skid, he’s still batting .291 with an .857 on-base plus slugging percentage.

5. Teams must trim their rosters from 28 to 26 by Monday. Clubs can carry 14 pitchers on their roster through May 29 before it goes to the 13-pitcher maximum.

As of Sunday, the Braves were carrying 16 pitchers. They need to get down to 14.

Rangers 7, Braves 3 (box score)

Stat to know

4.91 – The Braves’ starting pitchers have a combined 4.91 ERA, which ranks 25th in MLB.

Quotable

“When things are going good, it’s good. And when things are going bad, you want to jump in a hole. No, but that’s the beauty of it: We get to play tomorrow. We’ll kind of put this one behind us and get ready for New York.” – Riley on moving on from a series loss

Up next

The Braves travel to New York for four games. Left-hander Max Fried will face Mets righty Chris Bassitt in Monday’s game. Atlanta will start Charlie Morton and Kyle Wright (the club has not decided on the order yet) for Tuesday’s doubleheader. Ian Anderson will pitch Wednesday.