Braves bullpen shows reason for optimism

The Braves bullpen did something Saturday it hadn’t achieved in six seasons.

Touki Toussaint's thud put the Braves in a 7-0 hole early. The bullpen provided 7-2/3 scoreless innings, allowing the offense to chip away for an eventual 8-7 win.

It was the first time since July 8, 2013, the bullpen had produced that many scoreless frames in a game. The Braves also got 7-2/3 scoreless from their bullpen that day in Miami.

“It was real good,” manager Brian Snitker said. “They needed it. Maybe the off day gave them the chance to decompress a little bit. So that was good. That was big for them.”

Shane Carle, promoted as the 26th man for the doubleheader, played the most important role. He provided 3-2/3 of those innings, throwing 61 pitches. It was his third consecutive scoreless outing since allowing five runs in his two appearances opening weekend.

“Our bullpen in the second game there was pretty phenomenal,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “To cover 7-2/3 is incredibly hard to do. What Sugar (Carle) did, hats off to him. He pretty much saved us for a long time. Sometimes, even if you don’t win those games, a guy doing that sets you up for winning more games down the road. For us to come back and for him to do that, hats off to him.”

The bullpen also was effective in game 1 of the doubleheader, outside an inning from Wes Parsons. Jesse Biddle pitched 1-1/3 scoreless, notable given his recent struggles on the last homestand. Josh Tomlin pitched an easy inning on six pitches.

A.J. Minter closed out game 2 for the save. It was his second consecutive perfect inning since allowing three runs against the Diamondbacks April 16. He’s hoping as more arms figure it out, the rest will follow.

“It’s still early in the season,” he said. “We need to cut down on the walks. At the same time, we do have confidence with each other. When one guy steps up, I think everyone steps up. It’s going to be a friendly competition in the bullpen. That’s what we need.

“I wish there was an explanation. We know about it. We hear about it,” Minter said. “The biggest thing for us is to completely forget about it. We just have to pitch like we know how to pitch, not lose focus after each out, each hitter. Get strike one.”

The doubleheader was an encouraging day, but they’ve had them before. The bullpen was lights out in the Colorado air, then returned home for more of the same. Any outsider will point at the Braves’ bullpen as their biggest weakness.

But internally, the Braves believe their guys will stabilize. It does them no good thinking otherwise.

“They’ve been doing a great job,” outfielder Ronald Acuna said through an interpreter. “Truth be told, there’s nothing else to say. That’s what we expect out of all of them. And they came out and did it.”