PHOENIX – There aren’t many things one imagines could go terribly wrong after a decision to walk a batter with two outs and first base open, in order to face a [far] lesser hitter with the bases loaded.
But what happened to the Braves Sunday was just about the worst of those things.
Rookie Randall Delgado walked Arizona pitcher Ian Kennedy on four pitches to bring in the tying run, and two pitches later Gerardo Parra hit a grand slam that sent the Diamondbacks to a 6-4 win at Chase Field, snapping the Braves’ five-game winning streak.
“I was trying to be perfect,” Delgado said. “That was a big mistake.”
The Diamondbacks snapped a five-game losing skid and averted a four-game series sweep by the Braves, who will continue their two-city trip in Los Angeles on Monday with the opener of a three-game series against the NL West leaders at Dodger Stadium.
The Braves got three hits from leadoff man Michael Bourn, an RBI double from Martin Prado and ninth-inning homer from backup third baseman Juan Francisco, his third in only 28 at-bats.
But they were thwarted in a couple of other scoring opportunities when Brian McCann lined into a double play with runners at second and third and pinch-hitter Chipper Jones grounded into a double play.
It may have been the last major league start for a while for Delgado (2-1), who’s expected to be sent to Triple-A Gwinnett when Tim Hudson is activated from the disabled list and inserted into the starting rotation Sunday or Monday against Pittsburgh. With an off day in the schedule Thursday, the Braves won’t have to use Delgado again unless they want to give other pitchers an extra day of rest.
Delgado learned a lesson the hard way in his second loss in 10 major league starts, and only the second loss for the Braves in 12 games.
“That’s a young pitcher,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “A young pitcher that needs to mature and get in those situations and don’t let the innings get away from him.”
The 22-year-old Panamanian’s composure and mound demeanor have been strengths since he reached the majors a year ago, but Delgado faltered briefly Sunday and couldn’t stop the second inning from spiraling. This after he’d been staked to a 1-0 lead on Freddie Freeman’s first-inning sacrifice fly, and after Delgado was just one strike from getting out of the second inning with nobody on base.
Jason Kubel singled on an 0-and-2 pitch to start the rally. Then Cody Ransom doubled. Then Delgado fell behind 2-and-0 against No. 8 hitter Ian McDonald, and Gonzalez decided to have Delgado intentionally walk him at that point with first base open.
“It’s a situation where we’re not trying to give McDonald anything to hit,” Gonzalez said. “It’s early in the game, we’ve got a 1-nothing lead, but you don’t want him to throw a breaking ball in the dirt – which happened almost – and let it get away. So take it out of Delgado’s hands, put it in my hands, and let him face Kennedy. Which … that didn’t happen either.”
Four straight pitches to Kennedy were out of the strike zone, to the delight of many in a crowd of 28,679 – the ones who weren’t among thousands cheering loudly for the Braves throughout the series.
“Talking to Mac [catcher Brian McCann], he said he missed by a lot,” Gonzalez said of the pitches to Kennedy. “I haven’t seen the replay.”
Delgado might not want to see it anytime soon.
“Just thinking of how I worked the pitcher … I shouldn’t do that,” he said. “I was trying to be perfect.”
Gonzalez: “And the next thing you know we’re starting down at a grand slam.”
The slam put the Braves behind by four runs, but the game wasn’t over. Not with the way the Braves have played lately, averaging seven runs per game during their 11-game surge before Sunday.
Delgado retired 10 of the next 12 batters, with only two hit batsmen reaching base in that period. He was replaced after issuing consecutive one-out walks in the sixth inning, which is a lot longer than anyone might have expected he’d last following the second-inning debacle.
“I thought Randall showed everybody a lot today about his mental makeup,” Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. “He had a few mistakes that one inning and that was it, that was all they got. He really came out and bounced back and battled and gave us a chance to come back and win that ballgame.
“It’s very easy to fold after an inning like that. And he didn’t. He kept his composure and he battled, and really showed some mental toughness.”