MIAMI – In previous years, the Braves regularly dismantled the Marlins, who did not have much firepower to match Atlanta.
The 2023 Marlins are a bit different. They’re a much-improved club, one capable of scoring more runs than in the past.
On Friday, Miami beat Atlanta, 9-6, in the series opener at loanDepot Park.
1. Brad Hand threw strikes. He got ahead in counts. He got guys to two strikes.
“I was getting ahead of the guys,” Hand said. “It’s not like I was putting myself in bad counts. I just couldn’t make a pitch to stop the bleeding and end the inning.”
Called on to preserve a one-run lead with two outs in the seventh inning, Hand allowed four runs, which swung the game for good. There were no excuses to make, but the context tells you this could’ve been different.
Hand had two strikes on Jazz Chisholm Jr., who eventually lined a single to right field. He was ahead, 0-1, against Garrett Hampson, who doubled to score Chisholm and tie the game. After the Braves intentionally walked pinch-hitter Yuli Gurriel – “I didn’t like that matchup at all, off a lefty and this guy’s a batting champ,” manager Brian Snitker said – he got ahead, 0-2, against Xavier Edwards before plunking him. Then he threw Jacob Stallings a first-pitch strike before Stallings cleared the bases with a double two pitches later.
That paragraph is large, which is by design – to show you how many times it could’ve gone differently for Hand. He simply couldn’t execute that one final pitch to put away hitters.
The Braves trailed, 4-0, in this game, then led, 6-4, then gave up that lead. Before Hand, Pierce Johnson allowed a solo homer to Luis Arraez – who homered twice – to make it a one-run game.
2. After grounding into an inning-ending double play in the top of the eighth, Ronald Acuña Jr. departed the game. The Braves said they removed him as a precaution due to right calf tightness.
Acuña said he felt it while chasing down Chisholm’s single in the seventh, and then again during his at-bat.
“I feel good,” Acuña said through interpreter Franco García. “It just felt like a cramp. We’ll just see how I come in tomorrow and (how) I’m feeling, and if I play.”
How concerned should fans be about this?
“I feel like independently of whatever’s happening, I wanna play and be in the lineup, despite whatever pain I’m going through,” Acuña said. “We’ll just see what the trainers have to say.”
3. A couple hours after he exited the game, Bryce Elder said he came out flat. He wasn’t executing when necessary. The Marlins, he added, put together strong at-bats.
The result: Four runs over the first two innings.
But then Elder never allowed another as he made it through five innings.
On one hand, he would’ve liked to be sharper to begin this one. On the other, he recovered well.
“I think I’m gonna take it as a positive, just because you look back at some of the outings earlier in the year, I give up three runs, four runs in the first, and it’s like I never make it out of the third or fourth,” he said. “So to be able to get through five, I was pleased with. I thought I threw the ball well late, it’s just, you give up four in the first two (innings), you get your back up against the wall. I was about as pleased as I could be with it.”
4. In the sixth inning, Ozzie Albies saw 10 pitches from David Robertson. Orlando Arcia stood on third base, Acuña at first.
“I was trying to put a great (at-bat together) to get at least Arcia into home plate to give the team the lead,” Albies said. “I told myself I got to give it all I got.”
Albies put that final pitch into center field. Arcia scored, which gave Atlanta a one-run lead.
Acuña had started running when Robertson began his motion, and kept sprinting. As Arcia laterally skipped home, he waved around Acuña, whose ridiculous speed allowed him to score a second run.
“I was looking at Arcia and (third base coach Ron) Washington, but Washington told me to stop and Arcia told me to keep going, so I kept going,” Acuña said.
5. You could argue whether the Braves intentionally walking Gurriel was the correct move.
After all, he entered Friday with a .661 OPS this season. He was batting .191 with runners in scoring position.
Then again, as Snitker mentioned, Gurriel won the batting title in 2021. He also has a much longer track record than Edwards, who debuted this season.
Edwards scares you less in that spot. Hand couldn’t execute the pitch, and hit him.
Stat to know
3.50 - Elder has exceeded expectations. After Friday, he has a 3.50 ERA.
“I’m always a guy that when I leave the field, I forget about it, good or bad,” Hand said. “You learn from it, try not to make it happen again. But as relievers, you want the ball tomorrow to start a new streak.” - Hand
Jared Shuster will start Saturday’s game for the Braves, who will face Bryan Hoeing. First pitch is at 4:10 p.m.