PITTSBURGH – On Friday, Ray Kerr, a great story, made his first career major-league start. It did not go well. The Braves began in a hole, and it only worsened.

The result: A blowout loss for Atlanta, which must continue figuring out a solution to the hole in its starting rotation.

The Pirates (24-28) got up 11 runs on the Braves and cruised to an 11-5 victory at PNC Park. The Braves are 29-19.

Five observations:

1. On Thursday, Kerr flew into Pittsburgh and, according to him, did not know whether he would start or pitch out of the bullpen on Friday. The team, he said, told him he could do either. On Friday, Kerr learned he was starting that night’s game.

“Actually, honestly, it was very surprising to me,” he said of making his first big-league start after a lengthy journey in this game. “To know that I was starting today, when I came in, I was like, ‘Oh crap, okay, let’s get after it.’ Put together a routine in my head, went by it. Hopefully, I’m gonna add stuff to that routine the longer we go.”

Kerr and the Braves hoped this first one would go better, though. The left-hander surrendered five runs over four innings – two runs in the first inning, three in the third. The Pirates hit him hard, for the most part. Kerr left too many pitches over the plate.

In the first inning, Kerr hung a curveball and Nick Gonzales hit a two-run single. In the third, Edward Olivares lined a run-scoring single on a four-seam fastball down the middle. Then Yasmani Grandal flared a two-run double out to shallow right field.

The Pirates put five balls in play at over 100 mph against Kerr. Four came in the first two innings.

“He just never got into the swing of things, never got a groove,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “His stuff was good – his stuff’s always going to be good. It’s a different scenario than he’s done before. I don’t know. Just wasn’t as effective, obviously, as he was before, but I’m glad we gave him a crack, because, you know, his stuff’s good, it’s just about learning to do it.”

Kerr issued a walk, but struck out six batters as he displayed some of the stuff that has made an impression with the Braves.

Darius Vines allowed six runs over three innings in relief of Kerr. The Braves optioned him to the minors after the game. He’ll be in Triple-A Gwinnett’s rotation and the Braves will bring up a fresh arm.

Years ago, Kerr cleaned floors at a movie theater because he felt his baseball dreams might be dead. And as time has passed, he has proven this: Those aspirations are very much alive.

His journey took him to the rubber at PNC Park, a big-league ballpark. It didn’t go well, but it was still a nice accomplishment.

“Very excited to get the opportunity to get the first start in the big leagues,” Kerr said. “That was new for me. Learning experience. Didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but baseball doesn’t do it for you. But if I get another start, you’ll see a different Kerr.”

And Kerr, at the end of an answer to one question, gave a vow of sorts.

“Yeah, we’re gonna get nasty on them,” he said. “We’re gonna get nasty.”

2. What do the Braves do with the fifth starter role?

This is perhaps the most pressing question this team faces at the moment. The offense has underwhelmed, but those guys’ track records tell us they will likely improve.

But how will the Braves solve that final spot in their rotation?

Here’s the combined ERA for Max Fried, Chris Sale, Charlie Morton and Reynaldo López: 2.62 over 36 starts.

Here’s the ERA for Allan Winans, Bryce Elder, AJ Smith-Shawver, Vines and Kerr in their combined 10 starts: 6.39.

Going forward, the Braves might use a mix of guys. The Braves could go with who is pitching well at that specific time, and ride them until they fail to perform.

“Yeah. We’ll keep doing it,” Snitker said of finding the hot hand and trying to continue with it. “There’s options. It’s just one of those things you gotta fight through. This thing’s never perfect, it’s never easy. But we’ll just keep battling our way through it and then figure it out, and make it work.”

A year ago, Elder became an All-Star. Perhaps someone will get on a nice run – someone like Dylan Dodd, Winans or Vines. It could even be Elder. Maybe it’ll be Kerr, who has shown flashes despite Friday’s rough start. Hurston Waldrep has pitched well and is now in Double A, but the Braves might want to give him more time before calling him up.

The Braves were dealt a tough blow. They had five terrific starters – until Spencer Strider needed season-ending elbow surgery. And on Friday, Smith-Shawver, who turned in an encouraging start on Thursday, was diagnosed with a Grade 2 oblique strain, which could sideline him for six to eight weeks.

And at this point, Atlanta doesn’t have a clear option for the fifth spot in its rotation.

“We’ll just see where it takes us,” Snitker said. “We’re just gonna be on a day-to-day basis with all that and see where guys are. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.”

And at some point before the deadline, perhaps the Braves swing a trade.

3. It’s easy to get caught up in one night, but keep this in mind: Kerr was last a full-time starter in 2018. He hasn’t made 10 starts in a season since 2019. He’s still developing.

He could still be a valuable starter for Atlanta if it chooses to continue on this path with him. And if not, then he’s shown – albeit in a brief stint – that he could serve this club in a multi-inning bullpen role.

Friday’s start, during which Kerr hurled 72 pitches, was another step forward in terms of his workload.

“He’s kind of legitimately stretched out now, which is good,” Snitker said. “Because the guy’s got stuff.”

And if the Braves were to have Kerr help fill that fifth spot in the rotation going forward?

“Oh, that’s very exciting,” Kerr said. “I know I’m capable of going six, seven innings. I mean, I’ve done it in 2018, but my arm is starting to get used to 60, 70 pitches right now, so we’re going to keep stretching me and see how far I can go.”

4. In the top of the eighth inning, Ronald Acuña Jr. launched a three-run home run. By this point, it was rather meaningless to the game.

It did help the Braves continue a streak, though, because it gave the Braves their first runs of the game.

The Braves haven’t been shut out since May 12, 2023 – a span of 172 games. This is the franchise’s longest such streak in the modern era (since 1900).

And perhaps the homer serves as an encouraging sign for Acuña, who has struggled to get going.

5. The Braves’ offense had a couple early chances.

Acuña led off the fourth inning with a single, only to be erased on a double play. Then Marcell Ozuna hit a two-out double, but was stranded at second base.

The Braves had two men on with one out in the fifth. They couldn’t score.

The offense isn’t fully back to its regular form, but then again, being in a huge hole early didn’t help.

Stat to know

2 in 27 1/3 – Before Friday, the Braves had allowed two runs in 27 1/3 innings over their last three games. Their pitching entered this series with a 3.26 ERA, which ranked fourth in baseball. The pitching has been great – the Braves just need to figure out that fifth spot in the rotation.


“‘Am I ready to start? Is my (velocity) going to be consistent?’ Stuff like that, that, that I have to get out of my head.” - Kerr on the nerves he felt ahead of his first career start

Up next

On Saturday, the Braves’ Reynaldo López will try to continue his hot start to the season when he faces right-hander Mitch Keller and the Pirates. The game begins at 4:05 p.m.