After Max Fried’s first major-league start came in one of the more electrified regular-season atmospheres in baseball Sunday against the Cubs at jam-packed Wrigley Field, fellow Braves prospect Luiz Gohara’s debut Wednesday came in one of the quietest, dullest environments he’s likely to encounter during his big-league career.
Pitching against the Rangers in the first game of a day-night split doubleheader in front of a crowd of hundreds — hundreds, not thousands — at SunTrust Park, Gohara displayed the power arm that got him to the majors so quickly and the shaky command that must improve if the stocky 21-year-old left-hander is to thrive at baseball’s highest level.
Gohara lasted four innings in the Braves’ 12-8 loss and allowed four hits, six runs (all earned) and four walks with six strikeouts, with three of his four walks leading to runs.
“He’s got good arm strength. His arm works really well. The secondary stuff is good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, clicking off the pluses before getting to the one key minus for Gohara. “Just like with most young guys, it’s going to boil down to command. They have the stuff. It’s just the command.”
Gohara conceded that he had a bit too much adrenaline going in his debut. He threw 51 strikes in 83 pitches, the repertoire consisting almost entirely of 96-98 mph fastballs and 83-85 mph sliders with a couple of change-ups. He usually mixes in more change-ups, but said didn’t have a feel for the pitch Wednesday.
“I just got a little excited for first day in the big leagues, all that kind of stuff, and tried to calm down a little bit,” he said. “The walks just happen in baseball, we can control it but if you’re excited it’s hard to do.”
Matt Kemp’s two-run homer in the first inning gave the Braves a 2-1 lead. And after Gohara gave up a run in the third following a leadoff walk to the opposing pitcher, Ender Inciarte’s third-inning leadoff homer in the third put the Braves ahead again, 3-2, with Freddie Freeman adding an RBI single in the third to push the margin to 4-2.
But Gohara ran into big trouble in the fourth when he walked Joey Gallo and Mike Napoli consecutively to start the inning after going to full counts with each. One out later, Brett Nicholas lashed an opposite-field RBI double on a 2-2 pitch.
Pinch-hitter Will Middlebrooks followed with the most damaging hit of the game, a sinking liner misplayed by left fielder Matt Kemp into a two-run triple for a 5-4 Rangers lead. Another run scored on a Gohara wild pitch before he struck out Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Chin consecutively to end the inning.
That was all for Gohara, who was replaced by pinch-hitter Micah Johnson after the Braves got a one-out single from David Freitas in the fourth inning.
“I like his stuff, I like how he goes about it,” Snitker said. “He’s not scared. Just command.”
Snitker had said earlier that Gohara would stay in the rotation and make another start next week against the Nationals at Washington, but when asked after Wednesday’s game if that were still the case Snitker said he’d think about it later.
The Braves have been a proficient late-innings offensive team, their 233 runs in the seventh or later tied for second-most in baseball before Wednesday, when they scored four more including two in the ninth inning.
But realistic hopes of a comeback ended when reliever Matt Wisler replaced Gohara to start the fifth inning and gave up seven hits and five runs while recording just four outs, his ERA expanding to 7.76 and the Rangers’ lead to 11-4 after six innings.
Wisler retired the first two batters he faced in the fifth, then gave up a double (Gallo), two-run homer (Napoli), double (Rougned Odor) and RBI single (Brett Nicholas) before striking out relief pitcher Austin Bilbens-Dirkx to end the inning with the Braves down 9-4.
Gohara, acquired from the Mariners in a January trade, began the season in high Single-A and is ended it in the majors, an unusually rapid ascent through the farm system.
He had been set to make his debut Tuesday night, but that game was rained out after the teams waited 2 1/2 hours without getting underway. It was rescheduled as the first game of a split-doubleheader at 1:35, six hours before the regularly scheduled 7:35 p.m. series finale. The result was one of the smaller crowds that anyone connected with either team could ever remember seeing at a major league game.
The announced attendance was 19,971, but that was merely the “paid crowd” — the number of tickets sold for the regular Tuesday game, including the season-ticket base. When the game began there were no more than a few hundred people in the seats at SunTrust Park, which was eerily quiet as play began.
Gohara said the small crowd and pitching a day later than expected after the rain delay had no effect. To the contrary, he was a bit too excited and said he may have tired early from the emotions.
“Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “All my teammates came to me and were like, ‘Just relax, I know you’re a little tighter.’ The guys were (encouraging) me, trying to help me relax in the dugout and not get too excited to go out there and pitch.”
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