Pitching a concern as Braves begin trip

The Braves didn’t hit or pitch well during their recent eight-game losing streak – but it’s the latter that may most concern Fredi Gonzalez.

The manager says in the end he wants the Braves to be known for their pitching. With a sample size of more than 50 games this season there are several issues.

The Braves, winners of two straight since the slide, enter a six-game road trip against division opponents Washington and Miami and are 12th in the National League with a 4.24 ERA. Gonzalez said he would like to see the Braves in the top five.

It’s a key trip for the Braves because they have not fared well in the division, posting a 4-10 record. In spite of that trouble — and the eight-game slide — the Braves (28-24) are fourth in the division, but only two games behind the Nationals.

“We haven’t pitched as well as we should be pitching or been as consistent,” Gonzalez said Wednesday as the Braves concluded a homestand with a 10-7 win over Cardinals.

“My statement with that is because if we are known for our pitching at the end of the year that keeps you in ballgames. Those 12-9 ballgames, you can’t do that all year long, I call it slow-pitch softball, and win consistently. At the end of the year if we are in the top five in ERA, in the long run that’s going to hold up more than just banging.”

Although the Braves’ offense has scored four or fewer runs in nine consecutive games before Tuesday’s slide-ending victory, the pitching numbers are reason for concern. Consider the following Braves stats, and their ranking in the 16-team National League:

First in home runs (18) and fourth in hits (165) allowed by relievers.

Third in earned runs (218) allowed.

Fourth in hits (460), home runs (53), runs (233) and walks (172) allowed.

Twelfth in opponents’ batting average (.262).

Fourteenth in WHIP (1.37).

Fifteenth in quality starts (20), better than only Colorado.

“I hope when it’s all said and done we are team that is known for winning,” starter Brandon Beachy said. “We’re obviously not pitching as well as we like to as a whole. Our numbers reflect that. We have a lot of talent, and we expect to be better.”

The Braves had one quality start during the eight-game losing streak. At one point they allowed seven or more runs in four consecutive games, something no Braves team had done since July 2008.

A change to the starting rotation is in the works. The Braves sent Kris Medlen to Triple-A Gwinnett to get stretched out and join the rotation, most likely replacing Mike Minor or Randall Delgado.

“There is some inconsistency in the rotation,” Gonzalez said. “We have not been as good as we were last year in the bullpen. I believe that both those scenarios could be and will be better.”

According to Beachy, the issue is as simple as execution.

“We haven’t made the pitches that we need to make,” he said. “There is no secret. There is no mystery. It comes down to executing each pitch. It’s that simple. There is no magic formula that is going to alter the way the game is played. It’s just making pitches.”

The Braves, who had their second day off in 35 days Thursday, look to avenge a three-game sweep at the hands of the first-place Nationals, part of the eight-game slide. The series opens Friday, when Minor faces Stephen Strasburg. That matchup is followed by Beachy versus Gio Gonzalez on Saturday and Tommy Hanson versus Jordan Zimmermann on Sunday.

Following a May 18 interleague win over the Rays, the Braves were in first place in the NL East. With the losing streak they fell into a tie for last place.

Still, the Braves see plenty of reason for encouragement, especially after the two consecutive wins. Gonzalez notes that every team in the closely contested NL East is above .500 and first and last place are separated by a mere three games entering Thursday. Reliever Jonny Venters remembers a worse losing streak than the Braves just endured.

“When I first got called up in 2010, we lost nine in a row when I got here,” Venters said. “I didn’t know, I was like ‘Man, it’s the end of the world.’ Then we ended up going to the playoffs. Going through that, I know we are going to be fine.”