Mike Minor put the skidding Braves in another hole after giving up a three-run run homer and four runs in the first two innings Saturday against Washington, but that wasn’t even the worst part of their day.
The Braves rallied to tie on Dan Uggla’s two-run homer in the fifth, but that was before the faltering bullpen faltered again, and the defense turned shoddy, and the patchwork lineup failed to produce any more runs.
The net result was an 8-4 loss to the Nationals at Turner Field that extended the Braves’ losing streak to six games, longer than any losing streak they’ve had since April 2010.
“We’re not playing particularly well right now,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose injury- and illness-deplted Braves have gone from first to fourth place in under a week, and hit .191 with 16 runs in their six-game skid. “No excuses. We just need to get it going.”
They need a win Sunday to avoid being swept for the second consecutive series, after dropping all four games at Cincinnati to end a 2-5 road trip. The first-place Nationals won the first two games of the series to move to three games ahead of fourth-place Atlanta in the NL East.
The Braves have lost 9 of 13 games since ending a 22-9 surge.
“It’s just a rough stretch for us right now,” veteran Eric Hinske said. “All we can do is keep going out there and playing. That’s it… We’re very confident. It’s May. Just one inning at a time, man. That’s it.”
The Braves got four runs and six hits in six innings against Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg (5-1), who got his first win in three starts (1-2) against the Braves, the only team that’s beaten him twice in his 27 career starts.
Minor had been 0-3 with a 10.46 ERA in his past five starts before Saturday, and gave up four homers Monday at Cincinnati. So when he gave up a three-run homer to Danny Espinosa in the second inning Saturday to give the Nationals a 4-0 lead, it looked as if things might spiral quickly. It was the 12th homer the left-hander had allowed in a span of 28-2/3 innings.
It came on a first-pitch changeup, after the Reds hit three of their four homers against Minor on changeups. Also troubling: Minor had allowed a pair of two-out singles before the homer, including one by Strasburg after getting behind in the count 3-and-1 against the pitcher.
Minor said he didn’t want to “give in” to Strasburg, who’s a pretty fair hitter. He said the same thing after giving up a homer to Reds pitcher Mike Leake on Monday. But he did take something from giving up yet another homer on a changeup. He decided to throw more curveball and cut fastballs, and retired eight of the next nine batters.
“I feel like it threw them off a little bit,” said Minor, who lasted six innings and allowed six hits, four runs and two walks. “I used the changeup a little too much early, and they hit another changeup out of the ballpark. That kind of taught me a lesson – the last five home runs, four of them were on changeups.”
Uggla’s homer made him 6-for-8 with two homers, a double and six RBIs off Strasburg, and tied the score.
But the bullpen couldn’t keep it there. Kris Medlen (1-1) gave up two runs on three extra-base hits in the sixth inning, after giving up a grand slam in Thursday’s series finale at Cincinnati. One run charged to Medlen scored on Rick Ankiel’s triple that looked like it would be caught by center fielder Michael Bourn before hitting the wall beside his glove as bumped into it while backing up.
“I should have made that play,” Bourn said. “I hit the wall at the last minute. The ball hit off my glove. I should have made that play though. I didn’t lose the ball in the sun or anything like that.”
Jonny Venters gave up a leadoff line-drive homer to Nationals 19-year-old rookie Bryce Harper in the seventh inning, the third homer off Venters in six innings of his past eight appearances over 15 days. That matches the number of homers the lefty allowed in his previous 182-1/3 career innings.
Venters has a 7.27 ERA in 11 May games, with 17 hits and seven earned runs allowed in 8-2/3 innings.
“I have all the confidence in the world that him and Medlen will get it going,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just like hitters – they go through slumps. The best thing you can do as a manager and pitching coach is keep running them out there.”