Miller and Braves lose again, team’s skid now 11 games

Murphy’s Law has been Shelby’s Law this season. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong when Shelby Miller pitches. (Or lately when anybody pitches for the Braves, but that’s another story.)

More examples were provided in the third and fourth innings of Saturday’s 8-2 loss to the Nationals, the Braves’ 11th consecutive defeat and franchise-record 12th straight loss for Miller during his staggering 20-start winless streak.

Miller (5-13) left in the fifth inning trailing 7-0, and the Braves didn’t get a hit against Gio Gonzalez until the sixth inning and lost for the 18th time in 19th games. Since their 42-42 start, the Braves are 12-40 including 2-25 on the road.

The Braves’ majors-worst 50 road losses include all nine games they’ve played at Nationals Park.

“We’ve been trying to stick together as a team, but it’s been tough,” said Nick Swisher, whose eighth-inning double drove in the Braves’ first run, after they trailed 8-0. “I think right now with where we’re at, I wish I had the answer. I wish I could wave a magic wand to change everything around, but I think right now we’re kind of at the bottom, and we’ve really got to pull together as a team and as a unit, and figure out what we’re going to do. Are we just going to pack it in, or are we going to come to the ballpark every day with a chip on our shoulder and get after somebody?”

Miller gave up seven hits, a season-high seven runs and three walks in 4 1/3 innings and fell to 0-12 with a 3.53 ERA during a 3 ½-month winless streak, which already was the longest single-season drought in Atlanta Braves history. The overall Atlanta record is 22 consecutive winless starts by Carl Morton spanning parts of the 1975 and 1976 seasons.

“To try to be that guy to turn things around, and for it to happen like that is kind of rough, go out and give up seven runs, especially with the rough streak we’re having,” Miller said. “That’s just icing on the cake as far as frustration. But we’ve just got to go out there and continue to try to battle, man. I mean, obviously we’re on a little rough streak. Everybody knows that. We know it, fans know it, we all know it. But it’s all about trying to turn it around.”

Miller’s run support (2.4 per nine innings) is easily the lowest among major league starters. The Braves have totaled 21 runs while he’s been in the game during his past 20 starts, including no runs while he was in half of those games.

Gonzalez (9-8) was 0-3 with an 8.35 ERA in his past four starts before Saturday, when he limited the Braves two hits and four walks with 10 strikeouts in six scoreless innings.

On this night, it wasn’t merely offensive support that was lacking for Miller. The defense faltered, too.

Miller retired the first six batters, including first-inning strikeouts of Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper, before Ian Desmond led off the third with a pop fly that Cameron Maybin lost in the lights for a double. Two outs later, Desmond scored on a wild pitch that bounced past catcher Christian Bethancourt, who made a less-than-inspiring effort to stop it.

Jayson Werth doubled and scored on Rendon’s single to push the lead to 2-0, and Harper, followed with his 33rd homer of the season, a two-run shot to center field, two pitches after hitting a foul ball that third baseman Hector Olivera failed to catch. Harper, who also doubled twice, has hit over .400 against the Braves this season with five homers, eight doubles and 14 RBIs in 14 games.

If the fly ball had been caught instead of dropping for a leadoff double, Miller might have been perfect through three innings of a scoreless game. Instead, he trailed 4-0.

“Not only the runs scored but the amount of pitches after what would have been the third out,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “That’s the thing that kind of hurts. But again, it’s the type of night, at dusk, that ball falls down (for a double) and he just wasn’t able to cover it up. Later on, (missed) fly ball down the foul line — tough play for Olivera, but you know, the way Harper is swinging right now you can’t give him an extra swing there. That cost us a run.

“We didn’t play very good defense behind him. The wild pitch, that little swinging bunt got two runs. So it’s not only the runs and the ERA, but also a lot of (additional) pitches.”

Maybin, who wears contact lenses, left the game before the bottom of the fourth inning and was diagnosed with a corneal abrasion in his left eye. He said it’s bothered him for about four days but he tried to play through it, and likely made it worse by further scratching it.

He could miss at least a couple of games while waiting for the eye to heal. Maybin said he might see about getting fitted for some sports glasses, but that he’s never played wearing glasses.

Maybin said the eye irritation affected him on the missed fly ball, and he told Gonzalez after striking out in the fourth inning that he couldn’t see well enough to help the team.

“I keep apologizing to Shelby,”Maybin said. “He’s played with me long enough (to know). I’ve played under some tough skies but I told him as soon as it went up, I never saw it.”

Things got worse for Miller and the Braves in the bottom of the fourth, after the Nationals put runners on second and third via a walk, a groundout, an Ian Desmond single and a wild pitch.

With one out, Wilson Ramos hit a slow grounder up the third-base line. Bethancourt fielded it and made a lunging attempt to tag Yunel Escobar trying to score from third. Escobar went wide and avoided the tag, then slid toward the back side of home plate with Miller arriving to cover.

Bethancourt made the mistake of flipping the ball to Miller, who by then would’ve been too late to tag Escobar anyway. The ball sailed past Miller, allowing Desmond to score the second run on the play for a 6-0 lead.

Miller’s 12th consecutive loss broke a record he shared with Kenshin Kawakami, who lost 11 consecutive decisions from mid-September 2005 through mid-June 2006.

While Kawakami wasn’t very good, Miller was an All-Star this season after going 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA in his first eight starts.The Braves’ offense provided 4.5 runs per nine innings pitched by Miller in his first eight starts, a figure that’s shrunk to 1.5 per nine innings in his past 20 starts.

Before Miller, the longest winless streak by a pitcher during an All-Star season was Nolan Ryan’s 13-start drought for the 1983 Astros.