Braves bullpen churns out another strong showing in series opener



When Sam Freeman struck out Nationals slugger Ryan Zimmerman with the bases loaded in the sixth inning Wednesday, the left-hander continued the impressive early-season work of the Braves’ bullpen and helped assure a rather remarkable streak would continue.

It was the 182nd consecutive game Freeman has appeared in without losing a decision, the second-longest such streak in major league history behind Trever Miller’s 240 games during 2006-09 with the Astros, Rays and Cardinals.

Coincidentally, Braves teammate Peter Moylan also began the season with a 177-appearance streak without a loss, and the Aussie sidearmer tied Freeman’s 182-game streak when Moylan worked two-thirds of an inning with two strikeouts in Friday’s 8-3 win against the Rockies in frigid conditions at Coors Field.

The pair of veterans are part of a Braves bullpen that worked 3 2/3 scoreless innings Wednesday against the Nationals and three scoreless innings Friday at Colorado to lower its ERA to 1.45, third-best in the majors.

“The bullpen did an amazing job to shut them down,” Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz said after pitching 5-1/3 innings of one-run ball Wednesday against a potent Nationals lineup.

Braves relievers have held hitters to a .173 batting average before Friday, second-best among major league bullpens, and the Braves and Cubs are the only teams that haven’t allowed a home run off a reliever.

Freeman, A.J. Minter, Anibal Sanchez, Arodys Vizcaino and Dan Winkler have all pitched at least three relief innings without allowing an earned run. Freeman pitched in five of the Braves’ first six games, Moylan has pitched in five of seven and Winkler in four.

Vizcaino has allowed one hit and three walks with six strikeouts in three innings. Minter surprisingly has no strikeouts in three innings but has allowed no hits.

“I hadn’t seen Sam or Minter a lot before this year, but I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far,” Moylan said. “Sam’s got that split that he throws that’s disgusting.”

Braves relievers have 30 strikeouts in 31 innings, sixth-most strikeouts among National League bullpens.

The one negative so far: Their 22 walks are four more than any other bullpen has issued, with Moylan responsible for five in 2 2/3 innings. Left-hander Rex Brothers walked two without recording an out and was optioned to Triple-A on the third day of the season.

Otherwise it’s been a resounding performance by a bullpen that many questioned entering the season, a bullpen that’s still getting acclimated with one another and hasn’t had time to establish set roles for most of members.

“There’s a couple of roles down there, but the rest of the time it’s all hands on deck,” Moylan said. “Which, I think with the guys we’ve got down there, is perfect, at least this early. Everyone’s going to pitch themselves into roles anyway. Obviously I’m going to face more right-handers than I will lefties, but for the moment I can’t get them out. So I’ve got to pick my game up a little bit, but as far as everyone else down there, it’s a real nice group.”