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Braves Flashback/Recap: July 1

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Imagine losing a game to a pinch-hit by a pitcher

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

This isn’t a paean for the pitcher hitting, but with the seemingly-inevitable advent of the universal DH, we won’t get many more instances of what happened to the Braves on July 1, 2016. In short — one pitcher (Jose Fernandez) pinch-hit for another in extra innings, and delivered the dagger strike that the woeful Braves had avoided to that point.

The gist: Julio Teheran allowed two homers in the first, but the Braves eventually came all the way back, actually going ahead of the Marlins on Chase d’Arnaud’s two-run homer that made it a 4-3 game. The Marlins scored two in the seventh, chasing Teheran, but Tyler Flowers led off the ninth with a game-tying homer. After the Braves wasted a man on second, none out situation in the tenth and another leadoff hit in the 11th, the Marlins went ahead in the 12th on Jose Fernandez’ two-out, pinch-hit, two-run double, and that was that.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: This game wasn’t really about anything but the big Fernandez blow, as inconsequential as the entire 2016 Braves’ season was. The Braves came into this game with the worst record in the NL, and second-worst in the majors (27-52). They had won the first game of this four-game weekend set against the Marlins, but were still 20.5 games back. The Marlins were 41-38, 6.5 games back in the division and in third place, having finished each of the season’s first three months one game above .500. Still, they were apparently the one team the Braves were handling during their miserable season, having swept them in Miami for their first three wins of the year and winning four of the next six between these two teams.

In 2016, Julio Teheran was in the process of bouncing back from his 2015 downturn. He came into this game on a very good roll: 59 ERA-, 92 FIP-, 97 xFIP- on the year, but 46/91/91 in June, including back-to-back scoreless outings each with 7/0 K/BB ratios, and an overall 37/4 K/BB ratio for the month. The only issue for him was homers, and it was quite a large one — Teheran had allowed six homers in his last five starts, huge considering he only allowed eight runs and four walks. His lone start against Miami earlier in the year was not one of his good ones — 3/3 K/BB ratio, a homer allowed, and three runs in 5 13 innings.

The Marlins were countering with second-year starter Justin Nicolino, who was replacement level as a rookie in 2015 and mostly just benefiting from a lower-than-expected HR/FB rate to drive his decent FIP (131 ERA-, 104 FIP-, 123 xFIP-) coming into this game. Nicolino hadn’t yet faced the Braves in 2016, but in 2015, he had held them to one run in 14 innings despite a 3/5 K/BB ratio. He was actually pitching in Triple-A for a couple of weeks before this game, as the Marlins didn’t need him in the rotation until this game.

How it happened: The homers immediately got to Teheran. This was Derek Dietrich, the first batter of the game:

And then, three batters later, after Christian Yelich shot a grounder down the left-field line for a double, this was Marcell Ozuna:

It took the Braves a bit to strike back. Freddie Freeman nearly took Nicolino deep to center in the first, but had to settle for a two-out double and was stranded there. Teheran had a wild adventure in the second, including two infield singles and hitting Dietrich with a pitch, but got out of it by striking out Yelich on a slider at the knees. The Braves then opened the bottom of the second with four straight singles (Nick Markakis, Jeff Francoeur, Tyler Flowers, Erick Aybar) against Nicolino, getting on the board on this shot past Adeiny Hechavarria at short:

Teheran then swung away and really didn’t help his cause, which is whatever the opposite of foreshadowing is as far as this game is concerned:

After Ender Inciarte grounded out, the Braves were within one.

Teheran gave up a first-pitch single to Ozuna to lead off the third, but nothing else in the frame. He struck out Giancarlo Stanton on three pitches for the first out as part of a 10-pitch inning. Nicolino did much the same, giving up just a two-out single to Adonis Garcia. Both Teheran and Nicolino then had easy, quick fourths: Teheran got three groundouts on ten pitches, while Nicolino needed just nine pitches to get three outs, including a three-pitch looking strikeout of Aybar.

Teheran also managed a scoreless fifth, though with more difficulty. Martin Prado led off the frame with a single up the middle, but was erased when Yelich hit into a 3-6-3 double play. Ozuna then followed with his third hit in three tries, but Teheran got Stanton to swing at four pitches in a row, missing three of them and thus ending the inning.

With that frame, Teheran appears to have outlasted the limits of Nicolino’s effectiveness. Out of nowhere, Nicolino walked Teheran on five pitches to start the bottom of the fifth. Inciarte followed with a hard grounder that was unfortunately right at Prado at third; the Braves narrowly avoided being doubled up. That ended up being huge, because afterwards, Chase d’Arnaud apparently decided it was time for his first career home run:

After two groundouts, Nicolino’s day was done: four runs in five innings with just one walk and one strikeout. By the standards of his 2016, it was a pretty generic start.

Teheran’s sixth, his first inning of this game with a lead, was amusing. Justin Bour led off the frame with a single, and was forced out at second on a J.T. Realmuto groundout that was nearly a double play. Hechavarria followed with a pop to shallow center that Realmuto figured would drop, but it didn’t. Aybar caught it with a lunge, and threw a multi-hopper to first to easily double up Realmuto. Kyle Barraclough, the first reliever up for Miami, retired the Braves in order in the bottom of the inning.

The Braves decided to push Teheran through the order a fourth time in the seventh. It started fine, as Teheran got his fifth and sixth strikeouts of the night against pinch-hitter Cole Gillespie and Dietrich, the latter on three pitches. But, then it stopped. Prado lifted a weak pop into right that Markakis couldn’t reach with a sliding try, and Yelich made Teheran and the Braves pay with a game-tying double:

That was it for Teheran, but it was not it for the Marlins. Chris Withrow came on in relief of Teheran, and Ozuna greeted him with hit number four in four tries, putting Miami ahead once again:

Withrow struck out Stanton (his third consecutive strikeout; his first out was a foul pop behind home plate), but the Braves needed another run with only nine outs to go. Teheran’s outing featured five runs in 6 23. The good news was his 6/0 K/BB ratio, the bad news was the two dingers allowed. It was kind of par for the Teheran course at this point, as he was having real success with some peripherals, but not with avoiding the longball.

The Braves wouldn’t get that needed run in the seventh against David Phelps, despite Jace Peterson’s two-out double on a routine grounder to right (the Marlins had him shifted the other way in the outfield). Peterson entered the game due to Inciarte’s departure after minorly hurting himself on a stolen base ahead of d’Arnaud’s homer, with d’Arnaud moving to center field. Phelps actually struck out the side in the inning, including d’Arnaud to end the frame. Withrow stayed in for the eighth, allowed a one-out single and a steal to Realmuto, and departed after Hechavarria lined out to short. Hunter Cervenka then came on to face pinch-hitting Ichiro Suzuki and walked him. The Marlins then swapped the lefty-batting Dietrich for former Brave Chris Johnson, who popped out to d’Arnaud in a 3-1 count.

The day before this game, the Marlins made a weird trade, moving Chris Paddack for Fernando Rodney. Rodney had been crazy-good with the Padres to start the year (0.8 fWAR in 28 appearances), but he was also a 39-year-old reliever coming off a terrible season. Mostly, this is just a reminder that the Padres got Chris Paddack for three months of Fernando Rodney (who was below replacement as a Marlin). In any case, at least Rodney’s first outing as a Marlin was a good one — he struck out Freeman for the first out, gave up a two-out walk to Markakis, but then struck out pinch-hitter Brandon Snyder to wrap up the eighth.

Ian Krol worked a very easy, eight-pitch ninth, in which he became the first player to retire Ozuna on the night, doing so via grounder to third. The Braves had three outs to score a run to keep the game going, but it turns out, they didn’t need them. Thanks, Tyler Flowers:

A.J. Ramos had thrown two pitches, and blown his save chance. He almost lost the entire game, too. Aybar followed Flowers’ homer with a single that ate up Miguel Rojas at second (Rojas had entered in place of Bour, as Johnson stayed in the game to play first). The Braves then bunted Aybar to second, and a Ramos wild pitch made him the winning run at third with just one out. But, that’s not how this game ended. Ramos struck out Peterson on a changeup in the dirt, and d’Arnaud hit it hard but right to Yelich in left.

Extra innings, then. Against Arodys Vizcaino in the 10th, Stanton finally broke up his miserable night with a leadoff single. The Marlins bunted him to second, but couldn’t score him — with two outs, Vizcaino intentionally walked Hechavarra to bring up the pitcher’s spot, and the Marlins pinch-hit, amazingly, with Jeff Mathis, who of course made an out. (Mathis had a 49 career wRC+ coming into 2016, and a 44 wRC+ in his past three seasons with the Marlins. He’s not there to hit.)

The Marlins went with Nick Wittgren, a decent rookie middle reliever, to try and keep the Braves from walking it off. That attempt started poorly, because a Freeman pop-up on 2-0 turned into whatever this was, ending with him on second:

For the second consecutive inning, the Braves had the winning run on second. For the second consecutive inning, they blew it. Wittgren struck out Garcia and intentionally walked Markakis. The Braves followed the Marlins’ suit by pinch-hitting with their other catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, but he flew out. Next, a Wittgren pitch got away from him and nearly hit Flowers in the face (and knocked off his glasses), loading the bases. Aybar made good contact, but his drive into right-center was caught by Stanton.

Wittgren was the Marlins’ choice to see the rest of the game through; the Braves’ choice, starting in the 11th, was Casey Kelly. Kelly wasn’t terrible to this point, but he wasn’t any good either, and his peripherals were terrifying — in about 22 innings, he had seven strikeouts and seven walks. In the 11th, he gave up a leadoff single to Johnson, but then got three straight outs in the air. Wittgren followed with a quick inning that featured only a two-out d’Arnaud single, so Kelly came back out for the 12th.

The inning started with yet another Stanton strikeout, giving him the platinum sombrero on the night. Stanton was no stranger to that type of headwear, as it was already his fourth such game in 2016, the worst offensive year of his career ever (118 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR in 470 PAs). Unfortunately, things got worse for the Braves from there. Rojas singled to center, and Kelly lost control and walked Realmuto on five pitches. After a routine fly to right from Hechavarria, the pitcher’s spot was due back up, and the Marlins were out of position players.

So, they went with Jose Fernandez, who had a career 32 wRC+ up to this point. What happened after, well, is hard to forget:

That was about as clean a double as you can get, and the Marlins were ahead 7-5. Kelly struck out Johnson on three pitches to end the inning, but that didn’t matter now.

Dustin McGowan (remember him?) came on as Miami’s seventh pitcher of the night and made short work of the Braves. Somewhat fittingly, the last Brave up in this game was Kelly himself, who could not do what Fernandez did. He swung through three straight fastballs down the middle after taking one for a ball, and the game was over. Fernandez was the hero.

Game MVP: Fernandez, of course, was the story of this back-and-forth, marathon game. He got .445 WPA for his double. In his career as a pitcher, he’s only had three starts with a pitching WPA higher than that (his highest was against the Braves in 2014). It was one of only two games where he drove in multiple runs, and the double was the last extra-base hit of his career (RIP).

However, Fernandez wasn’t the only standout. Flowers deserves credit for being right in the thick of things as well. There was his game-tying homer in the ninth (huge), but that wasn’t it, as his single loaded the bases with none out in the second. (He was also hit by a pitch in the 10th, loading the bases again.) 2016 was an interesting year for Flowers, his first as a Brave. It was the first above-average offensive year (110 wRC+) of his career, though his framing took a little bit of a step back from where it was in recent years. He’d put it all together the following season. This game, with over .500 WPA, was actually Flowers’ best in that respect as a Brave. Pretty much nothing will ever top his best WPA game ever, though, where he had nearly 1.00 WPA (.997) by hitting a game-tying homer in the ninth with two outs, and then a walkoff homer in the 12th with one out, along with another couple of WPA-positive outcomes earlier.

Game LVP: Even Casey Kelly had a scoreless frame before his meltdown, so let’s go with A.J. Ramos, who both failed at keeping the game tied, and nearly failed at not outright losing the game (he should have, but the Braves failed). Nonetheless, Ramos was quite good in 2016, his second of two good seasons (1.3 fWAR in 2015, 1.5 in 2016). After that, he definitely fell apart. Until this game, Ramos hadn’t blown a save yet in 2016, and had a streak of 33 straight opportunities secured going back to early September 2015.

Biggest play: The reason for covering this game — Fernandez’ game-winning double. RIP, Jose. (His life was lost in an accident less than three months after this game.)

The game, in context of the season: As many games start to be during modern baseball at this point in the season, the implications of this one were an afterthought. The Braves fell to 27-53, the Marlins improved to 42-38, but neither team was going anywhere. The Braves spent every day from April 9 on alone in last place. The Marlins actually had a great July, starting with this game: they went 16-10, vaulting into playoff position (second Lightning Round spot) with a walkoff win over the Cardinals on July 31. But, they collapsed the rest of the way, immediately losing eight of 11 to start August and going well under .500 through the rest of the year to finish in third place with 79 wins.

Teheran finished 2016 with 3.0 fWAR, his last season above 1.6 (so far). He pitched better in the season’s second half, reining in the homers a bit (from 1.21/9 to 0.78/9), though his other peripherals took a step back. His next start against the Marlins, though, was not a good one either — five runs and a homer in 5 13 with a 5/1 K/BB ratio. After this outing and one more, the Marlins had seen enough from Nicolino and sent him down to Triple-A, recalling him later in the year for one more start and then long relief duty. Nicolino finished 2016 with 0.6 fWAR (109 FIP-) in around 80 innings, basically fine fourth starter territory (albeit driven by a low homer rate). He took a step back in 2017, with nearly everything trending the wrong way, and hasn’t been back to the majors since.

Casey Kelly was sent to the minors after this game and never appeared in another for the big league Braves. He was jettisoned off the roster in November, latched on with the Cubs, released, and saw a little bit of relief work with the Giants in 2018. Since then, he’s been pitching for the LG Twins of the KBO. Kelly was a 30th overall pick, so his career path probably isn’t one the Red Sox were expecting when they used an early draft pick on him. (He was acquired by San Diego as part of the Anthony Rizzo/Adrian Gonzalez deal, and then traded to the Braves for Christian Bethancourt.)

Kelly was an option to start the next game of this series (against Fernandez), but after his two innings in this one, he was sent down and Lucas Harrell was called up. That started Harrell’s weirdly-good tiny run of being effective for the Braves, which led to him being traded. The Braves actually crushed Fernandez in that game, with a six-run, sixth-inning rally that featured a Jace Peterson grand slam (they already led on a Freeman two-run homer earlier), en route to splitting the series.

Despite being terrible, the 2016 Braves went 11-7 against the Marlins, and actually had above-.500 records against every divisional opponent but the Nationals.

Video:

Condensed game:

Recap:

Highlights: click here

TC Recap: https://www.talkingchop.com/2016/7/2/12086630/marlins-vs-braves-final-score-miami-outlasts-atlanta-in-12-innings

TC Game Thread: https://www.talkingchop.com/2016/7/1/12081514/miami-marlins-vs-atlanta-braves-game-thread

TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: Kelly is bad, this game was a kick in the pants, can’t believe Fernandez beat us, the usual. Really, the commentariat was fairly over the team at this point, and it’s not hard to see why.

Anything else? Apparently, Fernandez was just the second Marlins pitcher, ever, with a game-winning pinch hit. The first was in 1997, when Dennis Cook did it, also against the Braves. This was, of course, Fernandez’ first pinch-hit appearance, because why would he have any others?

This was Ozuna’s second four-hit game in less than a month. He hit for a 177 wRC+ between that game (June 9) and this one.

Dietrich was hit by a pitch in this game, giving him 16 on the year. He easily shattered the prior Marlins record of 17 (Carlos Delgado, 2005) by hitting hit 24 total times in 2016. That wasn’t even his career high; he was hit 25 times in 2019, in 100 fewer PAs.

Chase d’Arnaud had appeared in major league games as early as 2011, but had his first homer in this one. 2016 was his greatest MLB exposure overall, setting career highs in wRC+ (76), fWAR (0.2), and PAs (262). He actually hit three homers in just 100 PAs in 2018, but hasn’t appeared in the majors since.

Ahead of this game, the Marlins DFAed Jo-Jo Reyes to make room for Rodney on the active roster.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something cool about July 1: On this date in 1963, ZIP codes made their debut. They’re pretty ubiquitous, so it’s weird to think they haven’t always been around (but of course, why would they have been?).

There would have been no game tomorrow, but we’re just taking a short break... at least until the deal for actual baseball game coverage becomes clearer.