BOSTON — One week Braves pitcher Randall Delgado can look like a talented rookie who has begun to figure things out and put it all together, and the next he’ll look like … well, a rookie pitcher.
Saturday night was the latter. Delgado gave up four runs and didn’t make it out of the second inning of a 8-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, snapping the Braves’ three-game winning streak and evening the series at a game apiece.
“He couldn’t command anything, really,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves are 3-2 on a six-game trip that ends with Sunday afternoon’s series finale.
Delgado (4-8) gave up six hits and two walks in 1-1/3 innings, easily the shortest of his 21 career starts. The 22-year-old hadn’t lasted fewer than four innings in any start, and pitched a career-high eight innings in his previous start Sunday against Baltimore, allowing just three hits and two runs in that impressive performance.
“When you’re bringing a young starter along there are going to be some days when it’s not going to look as good,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes you’re going to feel like the young man’s turned a corner, and you take a step backwards. That’s where we feel like it is today.”
The Braves chipped away at the lead and got to within 6-4 before Daniel Nava’s two-run, two-out single off reliever Jonny Venters in the seventh inning pushed the lead back to four runs.
“I felt [when trailing] 4-1, 6-2, 6-4, that we had a chance,” said Chipper Jones, who had an RBI double in the sixth off the right-field wall. “But when you’re on the comeback trail, can’t give up runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. And we gave up two huge ones there in the [seventh]. That was pretty much the nail in our coffin.”
Red Sox left-hander Franklin Morales (1-1) made his second start since 2009 and had eight strikeouts in six innings while limiting the Braves to seven hits and three runs (two earned) with one walk. He had been in the bullpen all season until moving to the rotation last week, the only reason he was replaced after throwing only 86 pitches.
Franklin’s early exit cracked the door open a little more for a possible comeback, but the two-run hit off Venters seemed to seal the deal. Those two runs were charged to Anthony Varvaro, who had pitched well for most of two innings and gave up no runs except those that scored on the hit off Venters, after Varvaro had allowed a one-out double and walk.
Venters struck out the next batter but threw a wild pitch that moved both runners up. Nava drove both in with a hard-hit grounder through the right side of the infield.
“We bring in Jonny to try to get a sinkerball,” Gonzalez said. “I know people at home are probably thinking, [why] bring in a lefty to face a righty and then the next inning bring the righty to face the left-handers. But you feel like you know your guys better than everybody else.”
Venters has allowed 28 hits and 10 walks in 19 2/3 innings during 26 appearances since the beginning of May, posting an alarming 5.49 ERA and .341 opponents’ average in that period (which doesn’t including inherited runners allowed to score, such as the two Saturday).
“He throws a wild pitch, so two guys go to second and third,” Gonzalez said. “Then a ball that’s just a foot out of reach of [first baseman] Freeman … [Venters] is going to be OK, though. I think. The sinkerball is sinking, and the ground balls are getting through.”
The Braves had a prime scoring opportunity in the first inning, when they got things started with a leadoff single by Michael Bourn (3-for-5, two RBIs, two stolen bases) and a walk by Martin Prado. After a double steal they had two in scoring position with none out, and Brian McCann drove in one run with a single off the glove of second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
But that was it for the Braves’ bats for the first four innings.
Morales went into shutdown mode, striking out Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman before Jones lined out to end the first inning with the Braves up 1-0. After McCann’s single in the first inning, Morales recorded 12 outs in a span of 12 batters, and the Red Sox built a 5-1 lead before the Braves got another runner to second base against the lefty.
“We needed to get more out of the first than we did,” Jones said. “We really had a chance to set the tone for the ballgame and have them play catch-up, and hopefully give our young guy a little bit of breathing room. But unfortunately we only got the one, and they come out of the top of the first feeling good about things as opposed to being down two or three runs.”
The Braves trailed 5-1 before Jason Heyward almost singlehandedly created a run in the fifth, after leading off with an infield single and going to second on Morales’ throwing error to first on the play. He hustled to third on a pop foul, then scored on Bourn’s two-out single to cut the lead to 5-2.
The Red Sox answered with a run in the bottom of the fifth after reliever Cristhian Martinez allowed three consecutive hits to start the inning, including Cody Ross’ RBI double.
Delgado had a 3.28 ERA and .188 opponents’ average in his previous four starts, but the Red Sox got four hits against him in the first inning, including three singles followed by Will Middlebrooks’ two-out double high off the towering left-field wall. Adrian Gonzalez’s single drove in one run, and Middlebrooks brought home another for a 2-0 lead.
“I don’t know, just a bad day today,” Delgado said. “I felt good with my pitches, everything. But I gave up hits.”
Gonzalez said he thought Delgado looked uncomfortable or frustrated on the mound, but the pitcher insisted otherwise.
“I felt comfortable, like, with the curve and the change-up,” he said. “I mean, maybe I left the pitches right in the middle, but I felt good with all my pitches. But they hit them. They hit the ball at the right time.”
The Sox kept up their charge in the second inning, after No. 9 hitter Mike Aviles singled and Nava was hit by a pitch with one out. Pedroia followed with a two-run double for a 4-0 lead.
Gonzalez had Delgado walk David Ortiz with first base open and one out. When Delgado followed that by walking former Braves catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia to load the bases, Gonzalez had seen enough.
Delgado gave up grand slams at Arizona on April 22 and at Tampa Bay on May 19, but Gonzalez said he took him out Saturday not because of that but because he’d already thrown nearly 60 pitches and labored the entire way. He brought in Martinez, who induced an inning-ending double-play grounder by Adrian Gonzalez.
But plenty of damage had already been done against Delgado.
“He didn’t have it,” Jones said. “He didn’t have location tonight. When a young pitcher struggles with location, it snowballs on him fast. And it snowballed on him. You’ve got to really get him to slow himself down. He just wants to get it and go, get it and go, get it and go. And it’s harder to make adjustments that way.”