Luiz Gohara turned 21 in July and began the season pitching for the high Single-A Florida Fire Frogs, so it was probably unreasonable to expect the Braves’ hefty lefty prospect to shine in the major leagues this soon.
A more realistic outcome was the one that Gohara produced in his major league debut Wednesday, when he lasted four innings and gave up four hits, six runs and four walks with six strikeouts in a 12-8 loss to the slugging Texas Rangers in the first game of a doubleheader at nearly empty SunTrust Park.
The final pitching line wasn’t good, nor were the consecutive walks he issued to start the fourth inning or the leadoff walk in the third to the opposing pitcher. But the power-armed Gohara showed why he’s considered a special talent, firing 96-98 mph fastballs and a slider that’s already good even by major league standards.
And he did it while admitting feeling nervous from all the adrenaline of his major league debut after a promotion from Triple-A, reaching the final rung on what’s been a dizzying climb through the Braves’ system since he was acquired from the Mariners in a January trade that sent outfielder Mallex Smith and reliever Shae Simmons to the Mariners.
“When I started this year it’s like, I’m going to keep working,” said Gohara, who became just the fifth native Brazilian to play in the major leagues. “Whatever happens here I’m just going to learn from, hopefully it won’t take me to make the MLB (team) this year. It’s just a product of everybody that helped me to get here. ...
“I worked hard and feel pretty good to be here with the Braves. I just got a little excited for (my) first day in the big leagues, all that kind of stuff, and tried to calm down a little bit. The walks just happen in baseball, we can control it but if you’re excited it’s hard to do.”
Gohara retired six of eight batters in the first two innings, giving up a first-inning two-out homer to Elvis Andrus and a second-inning walk to Mike Napoli. So far, so good. But the third inning began with him walking pitching Miguel Gonzalez, and two outs later Andrus singled to drive him in with the tying run.
And after the Braves reclaimed the lead with two runs in the third, the Rangers’ fourth inning began with consecutive walks to Joey Gallo and Napoli, both of whom would score in a four-run inning that put Texas ahead to stay.
“Sometimes it gets away from him and they’re not experienced enough to reach back and fall back on anything to try and right the ship,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said, speaking of the team’s multiple rookie pitchers in general and Gohara in particular. “I look at linescores and read reports from the minor leagues and it happened to him there, too. But you’ve got to like the stuff. I like the competitiveness. You can tell the kid’s not scared and he’s got stuff to get major league hitters out.
“It’s just a matter of refining it and the command. These guys, their stuff’s there and when they command the strike zone they’re going to be successful.”
That deal also brought the Braves lefty prospect Thomas Burrows, a former University of Alabama closer who had an impressive showing at low Single-A Rome in his first full professional season.
But the pitcher they targeted in the trade was Gohara, who was the Mariners’ No. 3 prospect at the time. He began the season at high Single-A Florida and was 7-4 with a 2.62 ERA in 26 games (25 starts) across three minor league levels, with 147 strikeouts and 44 walks in 123 2/3 innings.
Gohara came in at No. 76 in Baseball America’s midseason Top 100 prospects list and was 2-2 with a 3.31 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A Gwinnett, with 48 strikeouts and 16 walks in 35 1/3 innings, before the Braves made the decision to call him up and thrust him into their September rotation. He’s the fourth Braves starter to make his major league debut this season, and the team is getting a look at all of them now in advance of the competition next spring that will determine which of them makes the opening-day rotation.
For Gohara, the philosophy is the same as on the climb up: “Just work hard and never put your head down,” he said. “Walk forward, never look back.”