The Braves again got an effective start from rookie right-hander Joel De la Cruz, a stop-gap starter in their patchwork rotation. Once again it wasn’t enough because the Braves scuffled to score.
Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia stymied the Braves for a 1-0 victory Friday at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals (58-51) improved to 4-0 this season against the Braves (39-70) and have won eight of the last 11 meetings at home.
The Braves had just three hits and four base runners over eight innings against Garcia. He stuck out 11 while effectively using a sharp curveball and a change-up that dropped out of the strike zone near the plate.
“Garcia pitched really, really good tonight,” Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. “I’ve faced him many times over the years and he had all three pitches working tonight. He had his change-up, his fastball/two-seamer, and his curveball. He was doing whatever he wanted, when he wanted. I’ve got to tip my hat to him tonight.”
Cardinals reliever Seung Hwan Oh retired the top of the Braves’ lineup in order to earn the save. Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte led off the ninth inning by smacking a hard line drive that third baseman Jedd Gyorko snagged to prevent a likely double.
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De La Cruz limited the Cardinals to just two hits over 5 1/3 innings but walked five. The Cardinals capitalized on two of his walks in the second inning and gained their lead on Garcia’s single. Garcia is the first Cardinals pitcher since 1955 to record the only RBI in a 1-0 victory.
De La Cruz was making his fourth career start and the second since he took the rotation spot created when the Braves traded Lucas Harrell to the Rangers. In his previous start he held the Phillies scoreless over 4 1/3 innings and built on that performance against the Cardinals.
“To be honest, I didn’t really feel like I pitched my best tonight,” De La Cruz said through an interpreter. “I know I’ve got more out there, I’ve got more in the tank. I can do a little bit better next time. I feel like it wasn’t my best performance and I’m looking forward to going out there and getting a better start.”
Garcia, aided by a double play in the first inning, faced the minimum nine batters through three. The Braves created a prime scoring opportunity in the fourth but couldn’t convert.
No. 1 hitter Inciarte led off with a walk and went to third on Gordon Beckham’s single. But Garcia retired the next three batters: Freddie Freeman struck out looking at an off-speed pitch, Matt Kemp struck out on three pitches and Adonis Garcia grounded out into a fielder’s choice.
“We had the right guys up, and (Garcia) did a nice job,” Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said. “He was keeping the ball off-speed enough. It almost looked like he had a couple different breaking balls. He kept it away from the fat part of the bat, that’s for sure.”
The Braves had another chance to score in the fifth inning when Anthony Recker hit a sharp line drive to left field for a one-out double. The next batter, Chase d’Arnaud, hit a weak ground ball and couldn’t quite beat out the throw to first and De La Cruz grounded out to leave Recker stranded at third base.
The Cardinals scored their run after Matt Holliday walked to lead off the second inning. De La Cruz retired the next two batters but walked No. 8 hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker on four pitchers. Garcia made him pay when he slapped De La Cruz’s first pitch through the right side of the infield for a single that scored Holliday.
Francoeur’s throw to the plate was off line.
“It was just a bad throw,” Francoeur said. “Straight in the ground, which I don’t usually do, so that was a frustrating one.”
De La Cruz made it through the next three innings with little trouble. Snitker lifted him after he walked consecutive batters with one out in the sixth inning. Jose Ramirez replaced De La Cruz and walked Yadier Molina on four pitches before right fielder Jeff Francoeur ended the threat with a double play.
Gyorko hit a fly ball that Francoeur caught after running in about 25 feet from his position. Brandon Moss tagged from third base as Francoeur unleashed a strong throw that catcher Anthony Recker fielded with Moss still several steps up the line. He tagged out Moss to end the inning.
That was the second superlative defensive play by the Braves. In the third inning, third baseman Adonis Gracia tumbled into the stands near the Braves’ dugout while catching a pop foul.
“It sucked we couldn’t score the one run,” Francoeur said. “We did everything else except score a run tonight.”