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Freeman homers but Braves lose fourth straight

Freddie Freeman is off to a great start to the 2017 season but, through little fault of his own, it’s not as good as it could be.

The Braves first baseman hit his seventh home run of the season on Friday but, as usual, the bases were empty. Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson held the Braves to three hits with no walks over seven innings and they couldn’t complete the comeback against reliever Hector Neris in the ninth.

The 4-3 loss was the fourth straight for the Braves. They began the season 1-6, won five in a row, and then got swept by the Nationals before starting a nine-game trip in Philadelphia.

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Freeman’s sixth-inning homer pulled the Braves within 3-2 against Hellickson. Braves third baseman Adonis Garcia led off the ninth inning with a home run against Neris just as a sudden rain shower arrived at Citizens Bank Park.

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After a 24-minute rain delay, Neris retired Freeman and Matt Kemp. Nick Markakis and Brandon Phillips hit consecutive singles with two outs before Neris struck out Tyler Flowers to end the game.

The Braves lost 3-2 to the Nationals on Thursday after stranding two base runners in the ninth inning and also had a pair of defeats by one run at Pittsburgh.

“It’s just a little too late,” Freeman said. “We need to start doing that earlier in games instead of the ninth inning. We’ve been giving teams a scare probably three or four times this year and it’s always in the ninth. We need to pick it up and start scoring some runs. At least we are giving ourselves opportunities but we need to start doing it earlier in games.”

Freeman is hitting .397 with four doubles, a triple and the seven homers but only has nine RBIs. He’s hit six of his seven home runs this season with the bases empty.

Entering Friday the team’s No. 1 hitters had a .279 on-base percentage and the No. 2 batters had a .138 on-base percentage and so Freeman only had 17 plate appearances with runners on base.

“I’m not worried about that at all,” Freeman said. “They are going to start hitting and hopefully I continue to hit. Hopefully they don’t start hitting and I stop hitting. No one is worried. I’m not worried. I know that’s going to change because our guys are too good.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker moved Dansby Swanson from No. 2 in the order to No. 8 on Friday and had Garcia hit No. 2 for the past two games. Garcia hit a single in the fourth to score lead-off hitter Ender Inciarte, who reached base once with a double, but Garcia grounded out before Freeman’s home run.

Those were all the runs the Braves could manage against Hellickson. He retired the first nine batters he faced and stranded base runners in the fourth and fifth innings.

“He’s one of those finesse pitchers who just kind of frustrates an offense,” Freeman said. “He doesn’t overpower you but he keeps you off balance pretty much the whole time.”

The Phillies took the lead against Braves right-hander Bartolo Colon in the second inning and never gave it back. He allowed 11 hits and four earned runs over seven innings.

Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis hit an infield single that deflected off Colon for an RBI in the second. In the third Aaron Altherr knocked an RBI double and Tommy Joseph hit a run-scoring single for a 3-0 lead. The Phillies added their final run in the seventh when Maikel Franco hit a weak groundout to third base to score Cesar Hernandez, who started the inning with a double.

“The one that hit me off the knee I just kind of lost it,” Colon said through an interpreter. “Honestly that’s part of the game. I can’t really say it’s bad luck. To their credit they were getting hits off me and, fortunately for me, those hits didn’t necessarily turn into runs.”

The Braves went down in order in the seventh and eight innings before Garcia’s homer started the late rally.

“These guys play the game and they give you a hard 27 outs but right now we are coming up a little short,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ve faced some good pitching but that’s the big leagues. There’s a lot of good pitching here. But I don’t feel like we are that far off from getting on a little run.”

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