PHILADELPHIA – The second inning of his second major league start is one that Joel De La Cruz and the Braves will probably try to forget as soon as possible.
The Phillies used six extra-base hits and an error to score seven runs in the second inning and cruised to an 8-2 win Monday afternoon in a series opener at Citizens Bank Park.
Erick Aybar’s first-inning homer was all the offense the Braves mustered until the eighth inning of their ninth loss in 13 games since a six-game winning streak.
“An inning like that just kills you,” Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said. “We come back pretty good as a ballclub, but that’s just kind of hard to overcome right there when you get behind that much…. But I’ve got to give him credit, he hung in there and didn’t give up and got us through six, so that was big.”
De La Cruz (0-2) was charged with nine hits and seven runs (four earned) in six innings, and eight extra-base hits he allowed were one shy of matching a franchise high since at least 1913. It was the most extra-base hits the Phillies had against a pitcher since collecting eight against the Cardinals’ Dizzy Dean in 1933.
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De La Cruz was called from Triple-A last week to make a spot start or two in the Braves’ injury- and trade-thinned rotation. He toiled more than eight seasons in the minor leagues before his big-league debut.
He pitched six solid innings (seven hits, three runs) in a loss to Cleveland in his debut, and also pitched well in five of his six innings Monday against the Phillies.
But that second inning….
“Keeping the ball low in the strike zone,” De La Cruz said, through a translator of the difference after the second inning. “I was missing in that second inning when they rallied for runs. As you could tell later on in the game that was working out better for me. When I’m up (in the majors) I’m seeing the difference: When you make a mistake, you pay for it.”
Aybar’s first home run as a Brave was a line-drive to the right-field seats on Jerad Eickhoff’s third pitch of the game and first pitch to Aybar. The veteran shortstop has been dramatically improved since returning from a stint on the disabled list for a foot contusion, batting : .319 with seven extra-base hits in 20 games.
De La Cruz, 27, protected the lead for one inning, then was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of extra-base hits in the second.
The Braves didn’t score again off Eickhoff (6-9) until the eighth inning, when they got consecutive two-out doubles from Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. Eickhoff allowed five hits, two runs and two walks with eight strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings, improving to 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA in four career starts against the Braves including three this season.
De La Cruz gave up leadoff doubles in the first and second innings, but that’s where any similarities between the innings ended. He retired the next three batters in the first inning on a sacrifice bunt and two strikeouts, but in the second the leadoff double was just the spark. Flames ensued.
“The ball was just up,” Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “In this ballpark, wind blowing out, it’s a recipe for disaster. These guys have been hot, swinging the bats really well. But yeah, just some pitches up and they didn’t miss them.
“He did a great job after that, actually, to get six innings. And he probably could have gone out for seven if you didn’t have to pinch-hit for him. But I thought he did a great job in the fact that he gave us six innings and saved everyone else in the bullpen.”
After Cameron Rupp’s leadoff double in the second, Tommy Joseph followed with a double that glanced off center fielder Emilio Bonifacio’s glove as he raced back to the warning track. Rupp held up in case the ball was caught, so he only got to third on the play.
Rupp scored on a groundout and Cesar Hernandez tripled to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead. Eickhoff followed with a fielder’s choice grounder to third baseman Brandon Snyder, whose throw to the plate sailed high, letting in a run. Odubel Herrera’s two-run homer — the fourth extra-base hit of the inning – pushed the lead to 5-1.
And the Phillies still weren’t done running De La Cruz through the spin cycle.
Peter Bourjos was up next and doubled, and one out later Maikel Franco hit the second home run of the inning, a two-run shot with two out for a 7-1 lead. Six extra-base hits and seven runs in one inning.
“We had a tough inning. (De La Cruz) had a tough inning,” Snitker said. “The whole inning got away from us. He got the ball up a lot in that inning and some balls were hit pretty hard, but to his credit he didn’t ever quit pitching and he regrouped and got us through six innings.”