Josh Donaldson soared one into the sky, putting the Braves up 2-1 in the ninth inning of what had been a pitchers’ duel in Phoenix. In came Luke Jackson, riding a 15-inning scoreless streak, trying to close out the Diamondbacks.
He didn’t. Then in extra innings, A.J. Minter couldn’t hold the Snakes either. The Braves were one out from a win, but ended up with a 3-2 loss Thursday, their fourth in a row.
“It’s tough,” manager Brian Snitker said. “You try to pick the spot that’s best suited for them (the relievers) to have success and it’s up to them. It is tough. Sometimes in this game, it’s not kind to anybody. It’s never how you draw it up at 4:30, 9, 10 o’clock. You have to gut through it, keep fighting the fight and eventually it’ll turn. There are really good things on the back ends of tough times in this business.”
Jackson had Arizona on the ropes, but David Peralta launched a rocket to right that tied the game with two outs in the ninth. The Braves had two base runners in the 10th but couldn’t bring one home.
“I got two quick outs, fell behind a good hitter, made one bad pitch and unfortunately it cost us,” Jackson said. “Can’t dwell on it. On to the next one.”
That set up Minter, who entered with an even 9.00 ERA and was trying to move beyond his career-worst slump. He walked Nick Ahmed on five pitches. Carson Kelly singled. Ketel Marte’s bloop that eluded three Braves in shallow right field brought home the winner.
Minter, who shared closer duties with the now-injured Arodys Vizcaino last season, hasn’t hit his stride. Snitker feels that’s partly due to his shortened spring training because of shoulder soreness. Whatever the reason, “he hasn’t been throwing like we saw him last year,” to quote Snitker.
With Jonny Venters returning soon, the Braves could opt to send Minter to Triple-A. They already did so with Sean Newcomb, another player with past promise who couldn’t consistently throw strikes. In two appearances back in the bigs, that stint seemed to do Newcomb well.
“Sometimes you have to do something like that,” Snitker said, when asked about potentially demoting Minter.
Just like that, the Braves – once an out away from distancing themselves from their horrid sweep in Los Angeles – just saw their misfortunes magnified. Their losses to the Dodgers were brutal, but none to this degree.
This win slipped through their fingers, extending their late-inning miseries. The Braves have blown six of their 13 save opportunities, and they simply lack a clear-cut, reliable arm to handle the ninth right now.
It wasted another productive outing from Mike Soroka, who became the first starter in MLB history to begin his career with eight of 10 games allowing one run or fewer. It also squandered Donaldson’s nice night in which he made an impressive double play to get Soroka out of a sixth-inning jam and hit the go-ahead homer in the ninth.
“That’s a tough one to lose,” Snitker said. “You fight like that. But we have to bounce back and win tomorrow.”
Julio Teheran opposes Arizona ace Zack Greinke on Friday. The Braves will try to snap a four-game skid that’s dropped them to 18-20.