Saturday was another gallon of gasoline poured on the late-inning fire of a Braves game.
Up 5-4, the Rockies scored five times – all with two outs – to steal a 9-5 win at SunTrust Park. The latest bullpen erosion was triggered by walks and completed by a home run lost in the night sky.
A.J. Minter came on for the save, but David Dahl’s leadoff double immediately made the situation interesting. Minter struck out the next two, bringing up Ian Desmond with two down and Dahl at third.
Minter fell behind and Desmond drew a six-pitch walk. Drew Butera then walked on four pitches, loading the bases for Georgia native Charlie Blackmon.
Blackmon doubled on the first pitch, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs. And Minter, who holds primary closer duties with Arodys Vizcaino shelved for the season, blew the save and saw his ERA inflate to 9.72 through 10 games.
“When you miss one inch, that could be the ballgame,” Minter said. “Blackmon was the (pitch) I’d take away, if anything. I knew he’d be aggressive with the first pitch. The ball was supposed to be outside and I missed over the plate.”
The bullpen has been collectively poor to start the year, but Minter is an important cog that simply hasn’t gotten going. He’s had positives, such as the recent Ohio trip, when he notched two saves, striking out four.
But the Braves are relying on Minter to solidify their backend. Thus far, his inconsistency has hurt a bullpen desperately in need of reliability.
“I believe in myself,” Minter said. And the Braves need his pitching to reflect that.
“Shake it off,” manager Brian Snitker said, referencing what he told Minter after the game. “You just have to forget it and go get them tomorrow. There’s nothing else you can do. … If you’re going to close games, you have to have a short memory. Put it behind you and come out and close the game tomorrow.”
Following Blackmon’s hit, Minter was pulled for Dan Winkler, whose hanging curve was destroyed by Trevor Story. The Rockies not only had a lead, but a comfortable one.
“I threw one bad pitch, he hit it,” Winkler said of Story, whom he played with in the minors. “I think that’s the first 0-2 homer I’ve given up in my career. Credit to him. Tomorrow is a new day and I’ll be ready again.”
The Braves have grown too accustomed to such fate. The rotation is a strength. The offense is good and, at many times, as dangerous as any. But the bullpen’s inconsistencies are enough to undo all the positive.
As a result, the Braves are 12-14; they didn’t spend a day below .500 last season. They’ve held a lead in 12 of their losses. It’s early to make declarations, but their postseason hopes largely hinge on the bullpen figuring it out. That much is safe to assume.
“I hope (they have the confidence to bounce back),” Snitker said. “They’re going to need to. And we’ll find out.”