The Yankees had neither of their leading home run hitters, Mark Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez, in their lineup Friday against the Braves.
Didn’t matter. They didn’t need them against skidding rookie Williams Perez.
The Yankees scored nine runs in the first two innings and rolled to a 15-4 rout of the Braves in a series opener at Turner Field, the 10th loss in 11 games for the Braves and third in a row at home. Things got so bad that the Braves used a position player (Jonny Gomes) to pitch in relief for the first time since 1989.
Perez (4-5) was charged with five hits, eight runs and three walks in 1 2/3 innings, throwing 55 pitches and recording only five outs as his ERA climbed to 9.87 over six starts since a stint on the disabled list.
“One of those things that young starting pitchers go through,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, using the line he’s used all too frequently in recent weeks as his rookie-heavy rotation has been roughed up time and again. “They get two quick outs and then they just can’t finish an inning. And that’s, for me, what happened to him.
“He’s a guy who’s a sinkerballer contact guy, and he just got deep in counts, I think he walked three guys, and then he gave up some hits to some pretty good hitters that you can’t get behind in the count against.”
Yankees fans appeared to account for about half of the 35,546 in attendance, and Didi Gregorius and former Braves standout Brian McCann gave them plenty to crow about. Gregorius was 4-for-5 with a home run and six RBIs, while McCann had a three-run homer, three walks, a sacrifice fly and four RBIs in six plate appearances.
It was McCann’s first game back in Atlanta since going to the Yankees as a free agent after the 2013 season, and the catcher’s eighth-inning homer gave him 93 home runs and 320 RBIs in 545 career games at Turner Field.
After the Braves used five pitchers to get through the eighth inning, veteran outfielder Gomes entered to pitch the ninth and gave up a leadoff homer to Chris Young, then a pair of doubles. Gomes retired the next two batters on a fly out and sacrifice fly before striking out Bryan Mitchell to end the inning.
“I told Fredi early, I’ve got an inning in me, when things started not going our way,” said Gomes, a former catcher who said he had never pitched in a game at any level, not even Little League. “I figured if I could take one inning, then I’d do it, let our (bullpen) guys sit back and laugh at me instead of grinding like they’ve been grinding.”
Gomes was charged with three hits, two runs and no walks with one strikeout in one inning — one of only two Braves pitchers who didn’t walk anyone Friday.
That ninth-inning spectacle turned out to be arguably the highlight of the night for Braves fans, particularly seeing the brawny, bearded Gomes practically skip off the mound after striking out Mitchell. Gomes, who threw only fastballs, mostly in the 67-71-mph range, was the first position player to pitch for the Braves in a game since John Russell in 1989.
“You don’t want to (use) more pitching,” Gonzalez said of his decision to use Gomes rather than one of the other three relievers who didn’t pitch Friday. “You’ve got Peter Moylan out there, who shouldn’t pitch against left-handed hitters. And then you’ve got (closer Jose) Vizcaino and (Edwin) Jackson, and maybe that’s the only three guys you’ve got for tomorrow.
“It’s not a good feeling. I know Jonny was having a good time out there, but you sit in the dugout and you always think that somebody in that position is going to get hurt. But he got through it, he didn’t get hurt – that’s the first thing I asked him when he came off the field, are you OK? Because that’s always my biggest worry when you put a position player out there.”
Perez isn’t hurt, but his ERA is hurting, climbing to 5.56 after Monday’s debacle. After retiring the first two batters of the game, he gave up three hits and two walks to the next five, including Chase Headley’s two-run double that bounced over the center-field fence and Gregorius’ three-run homer on a line drive over the right-field fence.
The Yankees added four runs in the second including two bases-loaded walks issued by reliever Ross Detwiler against the first batters he faced. Perez retired the first two batters in the second inning, as he did in the first, then gave up consecutive singles and a walk to load the bases and bring out Gonzalez to make the pitching change.
The Braves trailed 9-2 when Freddie Freeman hit a bases-empty home run in the third inning. He was the only Brave to reach base in a 20-batter span against Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka beginning with the second out of the first inning.
Tanaka (10-6) allowed five hits and three runs in seven innings, with one walk and seven strikeouts. He gave up three hits, a walk, a sacrifice fly and two runs to the first five batters of the first inning, then dominated the Braves.
When Tanaka struck out the side in the third inning, all three batters looked at strike 3.
A woeful recent stretch of pitching only got worse for Perez, who is 0-5 with an ERA of nearly 10 in six starts since returning from a five-week stint on the DL. He’s allowed an alarming 43 hits, 34 earned runs, five homers and 19 walks with just 14 strikeouts in 31 innings during that period.
Before going on the DL with a foot contusion, Perez was 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA in the first 11 games (eight starts) of his career, including 2.17 ERA in the last 10 of those games.
Perez limited the Rays to four hits and two runs in eight innings of his third start back from the DL. In his other five starts since returning, he’s posted a 12.52 ERA and allowed 39 hits and 15 walks in 23 innings.
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