Ronald Acuña Jr. went hitless in his return to the lineup, but no worries: his teammates had his back and delivered a 5-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night to kick off a seven-game homestand. Huascar Ynoa pitched six strong frames and collected his first two major league hits, while Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies put key runs on the board with a pair of longballs.
The Braves got on the board early in this one against Arizona hurler Luke Weaver, as Austin Riley crushed a two-out, two-run homer in the second to give his team an early lead.
That ball cleared the wall by quite a bit, but the Braves weren’t done there. Ynoa led off the third with a scalded (102 mph off the bat) liner down the left field line for a double, his first career hit. The Braves had a great shot to extend their lead because both Acuña and Freddie Freeman laced balls off Weaver following Ynoa’s double, but both found gloves (Acuña’s a liner right to the center field, Freeman’s a hard groundout into the shift), and Weaver struck out Albies to end the frame. In the fourth, though, they were able to tack on further: Guillermo Heredia thwacked a one-out double into left-center, and after the Diamondbacks intentionally walked Alex Jackson to bring Ynoa up with two out, the Braves’ hurler struck again, this time crushing a ball at 110 mph for a grounder through the left side, scoring Heredia and giving the Braves a 3-0 lead.
Ynoa was doing it with his arm, too. Through his first four frames, the only baserunner he allowed was a bunt single to beat the shift. But, he faltered a bit in the fifth, issuing a leadoff walk to Asdrubal Cabrera before Carson Kelly obliterated a high fastball for a two-run homer. I was a little miffed when that happened because I had just read this article earlier in the day, and one of the takeaways was that Kelly has killed high pitches... no surprise, then, that Ynoa’s only blemish on the night came when he tried to blow an above-the-zone fastball by Kelly on a 3-1 count and paid the price.
With their cushion down to a run, the Braves struck right back against Weaver. Marcell Ozuna drew a one-out walk, his second of the day, giving him twice as many bases on balls as Weaver had issued all season coming into this game. After Albies grounded out, Dansby Swanson skied a ball into the left-center gap for a triple, scoring Ozuna. Ynoa threw a 1-2-3 sixth for his final inning of work, his fourth perfect frame of the night.
The Braves had a somewhat comfortable two-run lead heading into the bullpen innings in the seventh, but what are bullpens for if not to make things... interesting. First out of the chute was Luke Jackson, in a baffling move that required him to face L-S-S-R-L despite him throwing with his right hand. The Braves have been hard-pressed to be able to find any right-handed relief salvation this season, and using one of their few right-handed relievers to possibly face one righty, due up fourth in the inning, well... yeah it didn’t go well. Jackson gave up a leadoff single to David Peralta, then walked Cabrera. A groundout put runners on the corners with one out, but Jackson got Kelly to fly out to shallow right. He was left in to face the admittedly light-hitting (to date) Rojas despite the lack of platoon advantage, and Rojas made the Braves pay, lining one down the right-field line for an RBI double that probably could have tied the game had the ball kicked around a bit more. Instead, the Diamondbacks were left with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position for yet another bizarre sequence: with the pitcher’s spot due up, Arizona inserted righty-batting pinch-hitter Andrew Young to face Jackson. The Braves then pulled Jackson (they let him face a bunch of lefties, but not this pinch-hitting righty?) in favor of Tyler Matzek, who lacked the platoon advantage. After a seven-pitch battle, Matzek got Young to wave at a very high fastball to end the frame with the lead intact. They say all’s well that ends well, and while this half-inning ended okay for the Braves, it was really, really weird.
The Diamondbacks inserted Yoan Lopez into the game in relief of Weaver (6 IP, 4 BB after just 1 BB in three starts coming into the game, 5 K, 4 R, 1 HR), and the Braves got their hard-fought run right back:
So, the Braves headed into the eighth with a restored two-run lead, but it was once again threatened. Pavin Smith led off the inning with a deep drive into left-center. Heredia ran it down and got a glove on it, but couldn’t complete the catch; Smith earned a double. After a groundout, Matzek lost the zone against Wyatt Mathisen. In the final pitch of the plate appearance, he spiked a ball near Mathisen’s foot. The ball apparently didn’t hit Mathisen, but skipped away to the backstop, allowing Smith to score easily to bring the score within a run once again. But, the Diamondbacks then made two first-pitch outs, so Matzek got out with the lead intact once again.
New Arizona reliever Alex Young struck out the side in the bottom of the eighth, and that left it up to Will Smith to lock down the game in the ninth. Fortunately, there were no more dramatics (or histrionics) in store for the home team. A strikeout and two weak groundouts ended the game, pushing the Braves to 9-10 on the season.
The Braves won despite Acuña and Freeman combining to go 0-for-8 with a strikeout. Weaver had a bizarre first few innings by peppering the zone with fastballs between the belt and the letters; while Riley’s homer came on a changeup below the zone, Weaver could have gotten absolutely crushed had he not varied his locations a bit more in the later innings, which he more or less managed to do. Pavin Smith probably feels a little sore about leading off the game with a drive that was hit harder than Riley’s homer and at a similar angle — the ball didn’t travel quite as far and went for a flyout to center right at the base of the wall instead of a leadoff homer.
For anyone worried about Acuña coming back too soon — don’t. Three of his four outs in this game were hit at 98 mph or harder (104, 112, nearly 99). With fielders positioned a little differently, he comes out of this game with two hits rather than the goose egg.
The Braves will send Drew Smyly to the hill against Madison Bumgarner tomorrow night. Stay tuned.