HOUSTON – There was nothing sexy about the Tuesday night performance of Bartolo Colon, who got folded, spindled and saw his ERA further mutilated by the Astros as rough times continued for the Braves and the pitcher known as “Big Sexy.”
Houston got five runs in the first inning and cruised to a 8-3 win in the opener of a two-game interleague series at Minute Maid Park, handing the Braves their fifth consecutive loss and seventh in eight games since a four-game winning streak.
“It’s just hard to keep…we’re down four or five after two or three (innings) consistently,” said manager Brian Snitker, whose Braves have been behind after the first inning in five consecutive games, and were behind before their first at-bat in the two games before that. “Kind of wears on you as an offensive team, to keep fighting that uphill battle all the time.”
Just 30 games into the season, the Braves (11-19) already have three losing streaks of five or more games and Colon (1-4) already has half as many losses as he had all season in 2016, when the former Cy Young Award winner went 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA for the Mets and made his fourth All-Star team.
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Colon, who’ll turn 44 in two weeks, gave up five runs and two homers before recording his first out Tuesday, and somehow managed to stick around for nearly six innings. He finished with an ugly pitching line – 5 2/3 innings, eight hits, eight runs, three homers allowed – that pushed his ERA to 7.22.
“I was asking the Lord for some help to be able to get in four or five innings, just so I could help out the team and help out the bullpen,” Colon said through an interpreter. “So it’s encouraging, the last four or five innings.”
The 20-year veteran has a 9.55 ERA in his past four starts, allowing 36 hits and 23 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings in that woeful stretch.
“He started mixing his stuff up more (after the first inning),” Snitker said, “changing speeds better and keeping them off-balance moreso than he did in the first inning.”
Asked what the next step would be with Colon, who’s making $12.5 million on a one-year contract, Snitker said, “Right now we just run him back out there and see. Hopefully he just keeps trying to figure it out and start off mixing it up more or something. He ended up covering the innings, but it’s just hard when you’re down like that. It makes it rough.”
After Astros starter (and ex-Brave) Charlie Morton (4-2) needed just four pitches to get three outs in the first inning, Colon gave five hits before getting an out, a flurry capped by consecutive home runs from Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltran. Correa’s three-run homer to straightaway center caromed high off the batter’s eye backdrop and was estimated at 438 feet, and Beltran’s reached the second seating deck in right field, pushing the lead to 5-0.
“I was definitely missing my spots with my fastball, but to their credit they’re tremendous hitters,” Colon said, “so when I missed they took advantage of it.”
After the first inning Colon had allowed 33 hits and 20 runs over a span of 17 innings.
The portly right-hander settled in for a while and didn’t give up another run until Josh Reddick’s longer homer in the fifth, but the damage was already done, for the most part. The closest the Braves got was 6-3 after scoring three runs in the sixth, and the Astros answered that with two more in the bottom of the inning.
Colon had never lost in Houston before Tuesday, going 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA in four starts including 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three at Minute Made Park. But these aren’t your dad’s Astros, and Colon, the oldest active player in baseball and the only one to have to pitched in the old Astrodome – is not what he was not long ago.
He gave up three consecutive singles to start the game, with Jose Altuve getting the third of those to drive in the first run. In stepped Correa, who hit not a single but a three-run blast. Beltran followed with another, which brought pitching coach Chuck Hernandez from the dugout for a mound conference with Colon.
Whatever was said, Colon responded. He reeled off 13 outs in the next 14 batters with former Braves catcher Brian McCann the only batter to reach base in that stretch and doing so on a dropped pop-up error by Dansby Swanson.
“Hitting spots, for the most part,” catcher Tyler Flowers said of the difference for Colon after the early flurry. “Little bit more off-speed mixed it. But when you start hitting some good spots, getting ahead of guys, it gives you that luxury. When you’re not hitting spots and they’re jumping on the mistakes and you’re behind, it’s hard to count on off-speed, which isn’t really his forte, obviously.”
Reddick homered in the fifth inning to push the lead to 6-0 before the Braves finally got to Morton for three runs in the sixth when the right-hander appeared to tire and his control abandoned him.
“Command and everything, he just kind of lost it, it looked like,” Snitker said. “And we had our chance then. But it would have been good if we’d maybe had a scoreless game going into that, would have been a lot better obviously.”
The Braves got run-scoring singles from Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis in the sixth and a bases-loaded walk by Swanson, who was nearly hit by the ball-four pitch from Morton. Reliever Chris Devenski replaced him at that point and struck out Braves newcomer Danny Santana with bases loaded to end the inning.
The Astros didn’t take long to push their lead back to a comfortable margin, getting two runs in the sixth including a leadoff double from Beltran and a two-out triple from Alex Bregnan that ended Colon’s night.