It wasn’t anything that could be taken personally by Tommy Hanson. After all, the Braves have provided similarly poor run support lately for most pitchers, not just him.
Hanson limited the Colorado Rockies to two runs and five hits in 5-2/3 innings, but the Braves wasted scoring opportunities early and often in a 6-0 loss that turned sloppy late at Turner Field, where a gathering of 16,686 was the fourth-smallest this season.
The Braves had at least one runner in scoring position with less than two outs in five of the first six innings, including two runners in scoring position with one out in three of those innings. They failed to score in any of those situations as recent scoring woes resumed following a brief respite in wins Sunday and Monday against the Phillies and Rockies.
The Braves have gone 6-11 and scored two runs or fewer nine times in their past 17 games, while hitting .220 during that stretch. They slipped back to 7-1/2 games behind National League East leader Washington with only 26 games left on the Braves schedule.
“Yesterday we get three runs in the first inning with no hits, and today we get nine hits and get nothing,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose team’s lead in the wild-card race was trimmed to two games over St. Louis. “I thought we hit the ball hard at people at times and then the seventh and eighth innings got away from us a little bit — a couple errors, a walk, a couple wild pitches. We’re better than that defensively.
“I think we lead the National League in defense and we didn’t look like it today.”
Hanson (12-8) had eight strikeouts and two walks and gave up a pair of solo home runs by Carlos Gonzalez and Jordan Pacheco, both with two strikes. Gonzalez hit a long drive to the right-center bleachers to give the Rockies a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning, and Pacheco homered on an 0-2 pitch in the fifth.
“Tommy threw really well,” catcher David Ross said. “He was making his pitches. Fastball command was really good today. He was kind of rolling. Had Gonzalez set up, and it’s one of those things were Tommy was nailing the backdoor slider, but the scouting report in the back of my head says don’t throw backdoor sliders to Gonzalez…. It’s just a bad call by me, really.”
Hanson struck out the other three hitters in the fourth inning and struck out three of four in the third. The eight strikeouts were his most since July 2, and he reduced his walks after issuing 21 in 29-2/3 innings over his previous six starts.
“I felt like my command is getting back to where it needs to be,” Hanson said. “Just a couple of solo homers, and then that last inning was a tough spot. But overall it was good…. Lately my breaking balls have been good. It’s been my fastball command that’s been the issue, and it was a lot better tonight.”
Hanson lost his third consecutive start and fell to 0-3 with a 5.06 ERA in four since returning from a stint on the 15-day disabled list for a strained back. But the reviews of his outing were better than for most of his recent starts.
“I thought Tommy did a nice job,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s a positive with him. I really do.”
In his past 10 starts, he’s 3-4 with a 5.76 ERA and a plus-.300 opponents’ batting average. There’s been no middle ground in terms of run support for Hanson in that period: the Braves scored one or no runs while he was in six games, and five or more while he was in the other four.
They had early scoring chances against rookie left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who came in with one win in 16 starts and was 0-5 with a 7.04 ERA in his previous nine games. He lasted three innings and got no decision, but wiggled out of a tight spots in each inning while piling up 72 pitches.
In the first inning, the Braves got a leadoff bunt single from Michael Bourn and a one-out single by Chipper Jones. Bourn was thrown out trying to steal third base during Jones’ at-bat, and Freddie Freeman struck out to end the inning.
Jason Heyward singled and Ross walked with one out in the second, but Paul Janish was out on an infield fly and Hanson on a groundout.
Reed Johnson and Jones had consecutive one-out singles in the third inning, then Freeman flied out and Martin Prado lined out to end that threat. Freeman is 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position during the Braves’ 6-11 stretch.
“Especially early on, we hit the ball hard right at guys,” Ross said. “We were having good at-bats, guys were hitting the ball hard, we were getting guys on base. We left a lot of guys on base. One of those things, we weren’t finding grass. Three or four line drives hit to their outfielders that they ran down.”
After Ross’ one-out double in the fourth, Janish grounded out and Hanson struck out. Following consecutive one-out singles by Prado and Heyward in the sixth, Ross struck out and Prado was thrown out trying to steal home when Heyward got in a rundown.
“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Gonzalez said of the aggressive play backfiring. “You’ve got a guy at the plate who if he hits the ball on the ground it’s a double play, so you try to stay out of the double play. You’ve got a guy at first base that could steal you the bag. They executed it pretty good — the prevent of the double steal, they did a nice job executing. But at that time the score is 2-0 you try to scratch one out there and make it a one-run game.”
The Braves had found yet another way to not score, while going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position in the first six innings. Then things turned ugly.
Colorado doubled its lead with two unearned runs in the seventh, both charged to Peter Moylan in his third appearance since returning from a a long rehab for shoulder surgery. The runners reached on a Freeman error and a Moylan walk, then scored when reliever Luis Avilan gave up a single to Milton High graduate Dexter Fowler and threw a wild pitch.
The Rockies scored two more runs (one earned) in the eighth on three hits off Chad Durbin and a throwing error by Heyward.
“The game got a little out of hand [and] sloppy later,” Ross said. “But sometimes that’s baseball at this time of year…. The great thing for me, catching-wise, is that Tommy just threw the heck out of the ball. I thought that was one of the his best outings that I’ve caught all year.”