SAN DIEGO – The Braves didn’t have much difficulty beating pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum in front of sellout crowds at San Francisco Saturday and Sunday.
But up against 22-year-old Casey Kelly, making his major league debut for San Diego before a sparse Monday night crowd at Petco Park?
Kelly, the son of former Braves minor league manager Pat Kelly, pitched six innings of three-hit ball and the streaking Padres blanked the Braves 3-0 in the opener of a three-game series.
“That team has won eight in a row now, pitching well and playing well,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves slipped back to five games behind NL East leader Washington, which was off Monday. “We just came out of a real good series against the Giants and had a little momentum. They just pitched a little better and we hit the ball at them.”
Paul Maholm (11-8) lost for the third time in five starts since being traded to the Braves, allowing eight hits and one walk in 6-2/3 innings, the big damage coming on Yasmani Grandal’s two-run homer in the second. That was enough offense for the Padres, who’ve posted a stingy 1.73 ERA during their eight-game winning streak.
All 10 runs allowed by Maholm as a Brave have come via six homers.
“For some reason it seems like every time I miss lately it’s been kind of hanging for them to do damage,” said Maholm, who allowed one homer in 45 innings while going 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his last seven games (six starts) for the Cubs before a July 30 trade to Atlanta.
He is 2-3 with a 2.50 ERA in five starts for the Braves, who’ve scored just three runs during his 20 innings pitched in three losses.
“That was pretty much the only pitch tonight that stayed up,” he said. “I’ll take the two runs in 6-2/3 pretty much every time out and have confidence in the guys to go out and score. But obviously they pitched a great game.”
The Braves fell to 3-5 on a 10-game trip and need to win the last two games at San Diego to salvage a .500 record on the three-city roadie. They have a 2-15 record in Monday games (and a 17-3 record in Friday games).
Maholm both of his starts on the trip, giving up four runs and two homers in seven innings of a 4-1 defeat at Washington in the second game.
“You know what, that’s the way it happens sometimes,” Gonzalez said of the homers. “He’s not going to walk people. He’s not going to get dinked to death. He’s going to fill up the strike zone. He just left a cutter right over the plate there.”
Maholm is 1-5 in seven career starts against the Padres, the only win coming Aug. 15 when he held them to one run in seven innings.
The Braves managed just four hits against Kelly (1-0) and three relievers, including Jason Heyward’s first-inning double and three singles, two of them groundball hits. Slumping second baseman Dan Uggla had a single and came within a couple of feet of a homer to straightaway center in the eighth inning, when Cameron Maybin made a leaping catch.
“They battle; they know how to pitch,” Uggla said. “We actually hit a lot of balls hard, but they made the plays and made pitches when they needed to. Sometimes it’s just not in the cards, you know?”
Braves center fielder Michael Bourn also raced back and leaped to make a catch, and right fielder Heyward turned an inning-ending double play in the second when he caught Everth Cabrera’s sinking fly ball near the foul line and threw to first base to double off Maybin.
“We just weren’t able to get anything going,” Maholm said. “We hit some balls hard right at them and they made some good defensive plays, and we made some good defensive plays. It was a well-played game, it’s unfortunate we were on the bad end of it.”
Kelly had four strikeouts and two walks. One of the Padres’ top two prospects, the right-hander was brought from Double-A for his debut after going 0-2 with a 3.35 ERA in eight starts at three minor league levels this season. He missed 3-1/2 months with a strained ligament and irritated nerve in his elbow.
A first-round draft pick by the Red Sox in 2008, the former quarterback turned down a football scholarship to Tennessee after the Red Sox gave him a $3 million signing bonus as the 30th overall selection. Kelly wanted to play shortstop and did initially, before becoming a full-time pitcher midway through the 2009 season.
In 2010, the Padres traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox for four players including their top two prospects, Kelly and Anthony Rizzo