In a season marked by precipitous highs and lows for the Braves, Craig Kimbrel has been their biggest constant. But Thursday, the machine-like closer showed he’s not infallible.
Chris Young hit a ninth-inning solo home run off Kimbrel to lift the Arizona Diamondbacks to a sweep-averting 3-2 win against the Braves at Turner Field.
The first homer allowed this season by Kimbrel(0-1) snapped a string of 17 consecutive scoreless appearances for the right-hander, who had 24 strikeouts with no walks and two hits allowed in his previous 13 innings.
“I missed a spot,” said Kimbrel, who has allowed only four homers in 129 career relief appearances, the last two coming in consecutive games Sept. 18-19. “We were trying to go down and away [against Young]. He’s a good high-ball hitter and I threw it right into his wheelhouse. He got the barrel on it and it went out.”
The second-place Braves remained 3-1/2 games behind the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, who come to Atlanta for a three-game series beginning Friday night. The Nationals lost an 11-inning game at Colorado on Thursday.
“It would have been nice to pick up a game on the Nationals before they come in this weekend,” Kimbrel said. “It’s too bad we didn’t get it today, but all I can do is come back tomorrow and start over.”
Braves starter Jair Jurrjens lasted 5-2/3 innings and was charged with six hits, two runs and three walks with no strikeouts. He had a 2-0 lead before giving up a two-run double to Jason Kubel in the sixth.
One out and one walk and wild pitch later, Jurrjens was out of the game.
The only remaining scoring was Young’s decisive homer off Kimbrel, Young’s 10th homer in 116 career at-bats against the Braves, fourth in his past seven games against them, and second in as many nights. He homered off Jonny Venters on Wednesday.
“I think he’s getting hot right now,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He’s a pretty good player. We threw at what seemed to be his loop right there, those two at-bats, the one last night against Venters and this one here. You know what? It’s going to happen. I’m sure Craig is going to be fine for the rest of the season.”
Braves second baseman Martin Prado said of Kimbrel, “Man, he’s a human. I’m always going to support my guys, and he’s one of the guys that’s always going to be there for the team. It happens to anyone.”
Jurrjens’ performance wasn’t nearly as sharp as his comeback win Friday at Boston after a two-month stint in Triple-A, but was good enough to make what he did against the Red Sox seem something other than a fluke. He appears to be a significantly improved pitcher than in April, which is good because the Braves need him to be after losing Brandon Beachy to season-ending elbow surgery.
“I was just trying to go out there and have fun, keep my team in the game, give my team a chance to win,” Jurrjens said. “Try to have a solid performance again…. I think a couple of pitches could go both ways and didn’t go our way. But I just wasn’t as aggressive in the strike zone as I wanted to be today. I fell behind a lot and needed to come back, and they put together tough ABs against me and fouled pitches and worked the count.”
He said the heat affected him more than he could ever recall in Atlanta.
“That’s the first time I ever got tired from the heat,” he said. “I was shocked.”
Top-rated Diamondbacks prospect Trevor Bauer got no decision in his debut, allowing five hits, two runs and three walks with two strikeouts in four innings. The Braves were busy on the basepaths against him, but didn’t make Bauer pay a heavy price when they had chances.
They went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position for the night and left 10 runners on base.
“We had opportunities against a lot of guys,” Gonzalez said. “They made some pitches. We had the opportunities and we didn’t add on. I think it came back to haunt us a little bit.”
The Braves had been hoping complete a sweep against Arizona to begin a season-long 10-game stand at Turner Field, where they’d lost six of seven before the Diamondbacks arrived.
Martin Prado drew a two-out walk in the third inning and scored on Brian McCann’s double off the right-field wall for a 1-0 lead. The Braves had a chance do more damage against Bauer, but let him off the hook. Chipper Jones followed McCann with a walk and Dan Uggla was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Freddie Freeman flied out on a 1-0 pitch to end the inning.
In the second, Jones reached on a leadoff single and Uggla struck out, one of three strikeouts for the badly slumping second baseman. After a Freeman double put two in scoring position, hot-hitting rookie Andrelton Simmons grounded out and Jurrjens struck out to end the threat.
The Braves pushed the lead to 2-0 in the fourth after Simmons doubled off the glove of right fielder Justin Upton and advanced on a Jurrjens sacrifice. Michael Bourn’s sac fly brought him home.
The Diamondbacks stayed close, and it didn’t take long to tie in the sixth after Willie Bloomquist’s leadoff single. One out later, Jurrjens walked Upton to bring up Kubel, who began the day with a National League-leading 24 RBIs in June. He increased that to 26 RBIs with one swing, a tying double to the right-center gap.
“I think he’s seeing the ball like a beach ball right now,” Jurrjens said of Kubel, who’s hit .342 with six doubles and seven homers in his past 19 games. “He’s fouling tough pitches and taking really close pitches. He’s in the zone right now. I think he’s an RBI machine for them right now.”
Jason Heyward had a 12-game hitting streak snapped, but saved a run in the second inning when he cut down Kubel trying to tag and score on Aaron Hill’s flyout to right. Heyward made a perfect throw to catcher Brian McCann, who tagged Kubel to complete the inning-ending double play.
McCann also helped out Jurrjens in the fourth when, after Upton’s leadoff single, McCann threw him out trying to steal second.
Before taking a shutout to the eighth inning at Boston – he ended up working 7-2/3 innings with three hits, one run — Jurrjens had gone 1-5 with a 6.87 ERA in 11 major league starts since pitching in the 2011 All-Star game. That included a dreadful 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in four starts this season before being demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett in late April.
Only five of his 11 starts at Gwinnett were quality starts and he was recalled only because of Beachy’s injury.
But Jurrjens has silenced some skeptics since his return. He used his two months at Gwinnett to rebuild strength in the balky right knee that undermined his performance in the second half of each of the past two seasons. As a result, he’s able to push off the pitching rubber with more force and confidence, and to stay lower in his delivery and keep the ball down in the strike zone.
“I thought he did fine,” Gonzalez said. “He wiggled out of a couple jams but that’s good to see. I think he did fine. Go on to his next start.”
Bauer, the third overall pick of the 2011 draft out of UCLA. Bauer, 21, entered the season as the Diamondbacks’ No. 1 prospect, and went 11-1 with a 2.23 ERA in 16 starts for Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno, with 116 strikeouts and 48 walks in 93 innings, before being brought up to fill a spot in Arizona’s injury-depleted rotation.
Bauer’s delivery has similarities to the San Francisco’s long-striding Tim Linceum, whom the rookie has long admired. Bauer piled up 61 pitches through three innings of his debut, including the three-walk, one hit-by-pitch third inning. He was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the fifth.