Mike Foltynewicz was outpitched by a left-hander the Braves traded from their Triple-A team 10 days ago, and the Mariners led 5-2 after five innings Monday night before the Braves made things interesting, as they are wont to do.
But as has been the case too often in recent weeks, the rally fell short in a 6-5 loss to Seattle to open an interleague series Monday night at SunTrust Park, where the Braves have lost six of their past seven games.
Andrew Albers, traded from the Braves’ Triple-A Gwinnett affiliate in exchange for cash considerations, was charged with six hits and four runs (three earned) with one walk in five-plus innings for the 31-year-old left-hander’s second win in as many starts for the Mariners.
“It was nice to go out there and give our team a chance to win, whether it was against them or somebody else,” Albers said. “With the (wild-card) race the way it is, wins are big, and it doesn’t matter who they come against.”
The Mariners began Monday just 1 1/2 games behind three teams tied for first place in the American League wild-card race.
The Braves got a home run from Kurt Suzuki in a two-run second inning that gave them a 2-1 lead, but Foltynewicz’s recent struggles continued when he gave up the tying run in the third inning and three runs in a messy fourth inning where the fuse was lit by a hit batter and an errant throw to second base on an ill-advised pick-off attempt by Foltynewicz with two out.
That set up a two-run double from Yonder Alonso and an RBI single from Robinson Cano that pushed the Mariners’ lead to 5-2 in front of the second-smallest crowd in the inaugural season at SunTrust, a tickets-sold count of 21,284.
“Just some tough luck here and there, some bloop hits, but towards the end (of his stint) they were kind of putting the ball a little more solid and doing their job,” said Foltynewicz (10-9), who gave up nine hits, six runs and two walks in 5 2/3 innings in his fourth poor performance in five outings. “It’s been a tough month in general and I just need to focus a little more and regroup and get back out there.”
The Mariners pushed that lead to 6-2 on another run-scoring Alonso double off Foltynewicz in the sixth inning before the Braves posted a three-run sixth inning, the last two of those runs scoring on Ozzie Albies’ triple after his former Gwinnett teammate Albers left the game with two runners on base.
Albies tripled to the right-center gap off right-hander Emilio Pagan, the third triple in 19 games for the Braves rookie and second in two days.
Foltynewicz is 1-4 with a 10.63 ERA in his past five starts, allowing 36 hits, 26 earned runs and 12 walks in 22 innings over that stretch.
“He’s not hitting spots, command’s been the problem, the ball-strike ratio’s not good, not finishing guys off,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s just something he’s going to have to work through. He’s going to have to work through it and get back to where he was when he was kind of getting on that roll and being effective and the guy that we think he is.”
The current slide came after Foltynewicz went 9-1 with a 3.56 ERA in his previous 14 starts including 12 Braves wins. He’s allowed at least five earned runs in four of his past five starts and lasted six innings once in that span, after allowing more than three runs just twice in his previous 14 starts and pitching six or more innings in nine of those games.
Albers has won both his starts since being traded Aug. 11 from the Braves, after going 12-3 with a 2.61 ERA in 26 games for Triple-A Gwinnett including 10-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 17 starts. He signed a minor league deal with the Braves last winter and was traded without getting a major league call-up to Atlanta.
Asked if he was excited to face his former team, Albers said, “No more adrenaline than it is normally. It’s another game. I was thankful for the opportunity I got over there and obviously them making the trade over here to give me this opportunity, I’m grateful for that.”
The Canada native and former University of Kentucky standout is 8-0 in his past 10 starts including 6-0 with a 0.98 ERA in his last eight at Gwinnett. It was the 14th major league start and second this season for Albers, who allowed one run, six hits and one walk with four strikeouts in six innings of a win against Baltimore in his Mariners debut Aug. 15.
Albers was 2-5 with a 4.05 ERA in 10 starts for Minnesota in 2013 and had no decisions in seven games (two starts) for the Blue Jays and Twins in 2015-2016.
For the Braves, Suzuki’s home run was his 11th in his past 28 games and his team-leading 10th since the beginning of July, a remarkable stretch for the veteran catcher who starts fewer games than catcher Tyler Flowers in one of the majors’ most productive offensive catching tandems. Braves catchers have homered in three straight games including Suzuki homers Saturday and Monday and Flowers’ grand slam Sunday vs. Reds.
Suzuki hit his 14th homer in his 187th at-bat, after he totaled 13 homers in 778 at-bats over the previous two seasons. He’s one homer shy of the career-high 15 he hit in 570 at-bats in 2009 in his third season.
Of the 126 major leaguers who had more than 14 homers before Monday, the lowest at-bat and plate-appearance totals were Luis Valbuena’s 15 homers in 245 at-bats and 277 plate appearances.
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