Braves relievers Winkler, Moylan feel the weight of 15-inning loss

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Braves reliever gave four runs in the ninth inning after the Braves had taken a 3-1 lead in a game they would lose to the Orioles in 15 innings. (Video by David O’Brien)

With closer Arodys Vizcaino nursing a sore shoulder and manager Brian Snitker wanting to wait another day before using him, the Braves turned to Dan Winkler Friday in a ninth-inning save opportunity with a two-run lead against the Orioles.

And he blew it sky-high in a six-run inning.

And after the Braves scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie and send the game to extra innings, Atlanta’s often-maligned bullpen got five nearly perfect innings from Shane Carle and Jesse Biddle before turning things over to veteran sidearmer Peter Moylan in the 15th.

And he, too, blew it.

Moylan, the last available Braves reliever, gave up three runs before he got three outs, including a Manny Machado two-run homer. The Braves couldn’t come back from another big deficit in a 10-7 loss to the lowly Orioles in a series opener before a big crowd at SunTrust Park.

Such is the life of a reliever.

A game lasts nearly 5 ½ hours and in the end it was two guys left to answer questions and say how awul they felt about letting their team down. To the credit of both Winkler and Moylan, they were at their lockers to talk to reporters afterward, not holed away in a training room or making a quick exit before reporters had finished their customary postgame interview with the manager.

“I felt good, I didn’t feel nervous; I was comfortable on the mound,” said Winkler, who recorded only one out and was charged with almost as many runs (four) as he’d given up all season previously. “Just one of those days. Obviously it isn’t how I drew it up, and kind of let the team down tonight. But that’s why you play 162 (games) and be ready to get back at it tomorrow; hopefully I get another opportunity tomorrow.”

He might not get another opportunity right away to close a game. Winkler had hoped to get more high-leverage situations, having worked up steadily from a middle-relief role in the early season to a primary setup role lately and unofficial backup closer. This was what he was waiting for.

And it blew up in his face.

He pitched like an All-Star until the past eight days, posting a stunning 0.99 ERA and .140 opponents’ average in his first 29 games before giving up seven hits and six earned runs in 2 1/3 innings over three appearances beginning June 14.

His ERA has gone from 0.99 to 2.73 and his opponents’ average from .140 to .187 in a span of three appearances.

After not giving up more than one hit in his first 26 appearances, Winkler has allowed two or more hits in four of his past six including three hits twice in his past three appearances. He said fatigue hasn’t been a factor.

“No, I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself,” he said. “Getting caught up in stuff that I can’t control. I just need to go back to the basics and making pitches, just worrying about that. I’ve just been trying to do too much.”

He knew there would be a chance that he’d be called on to close if the Braves took a lead Friday, because Vizcaino has been out since Sunday and pitchers knew Snitker probably would stay away from using him at least one more day.

But after the Braves took a 3-1 lead on Charlie Culberson’s two-run double in the eighth inning, Winkler took the ball in the ninth and gave up three hits and a walk in five batters before giving way to Sam Freeman, who gave up three more hits and a sacrifice fly before he was lifted and a six-run inning was in the books for the Orioles.

“Cutter command wasn’t as sharp as it has been, and I just got a little winded,” Winkler said. “Honestly I think I just got a little excited to be in the ninth inning. I’ve been wanting those opportunities for a while now and I think I was just rushing a little bit. Everything was up, and the ninth inning those guys aren’t going to miss pitches in the middle of the plate. I had to face a really good lineup today. They got me.”

Moylan, the 39-year-old Aussie, wasn’t overly excited or winded or anything else in the 15th inning. He said he just made bad pitches and they got hit – or hit Orioles.

“We played 15 innings and I came in and couldn’t control anything, really,” said Moylan, who gave up three hits, three runs, one walk and hit a batter in one inning of work, the decisive inning. “It was just a frustrating inning. I’m way better than that and this team deserved a lot better effort than that.”

He hit the first batter he faced, Craig Gentry, and nearly hit (unintentionally) the next batter as he executed a sacrifice bunt.

“Call it mechanical, call it mental, call it whatever, it’s just not good enough,” said Moylan, who has allowed six runs, two homers and a .462 opponents’ batting average in 2 2/3 innings during four appearances over a 12-day span.

Machado was up next and crushed an 0-2 slider that was right in his wheelhouse. There were more hits and another run before the inning was through, but the Machado homer – after Moylan got ahead in the count – was the killer.

Asked if he’d do anything different in the Machado at-bat if he had it to do over, Moylan said,

“I wouldn’t hang it, and obviously an 0-2 slider is not supposed to be middle-in. So….” he said. “It’s one of those ones that slipped out of the hand and ended up middle-middle. If any of their guys threw a pitch like that it was probably going to get hit out, too.”