Braves lose as tired bullpen falters
Lefty Reyes lasts just three innings in first big-league start
SAN DIEGO -- Braves manager Bobby Cox was well aware of Tyler Yates' recent workload and had no intention to utilize his tired right-handed reliever on Saturday afternoon at PETCO Park. But the unsuccessful Major League debut provided by Jo-Jo Reyes forced the veteran skipper to alter his plans and consequently pay the consequences.
After the sting of Reyes' premature exit was lessened with Andruw Jones' two-out, game-tying triple in the top of the seventh inning, Yates entered and provided the types of results expected from a fatigued reliever. Like Reyes in the fourth inning, Yates issued two costly walks that the Padres capitalized upon in an 8-5 win over the Braves, who were seeking a fourth straight win.
"Today instead of going right at hitters, I tried to pick too much and ended up getting myself in trouble," said Yates, who, admitting fatigue has developed while pitching seven times in the past nine days, said his arm felt strong.
The consecutive walks issued by Reyes to begin San Diego's four-run fourth inning were costly. But Jones' triple off Heath Bell provided a renewed sense of hope that would be dashed when the Padres took the lead for good in the bottom half of the same inning. Chad Paronto induced a potential inning-ending double-play grounder that scored Gonzalez and resulted in no outs.
"Chad did everything he could to get out of that inning," said Yates, who gave Paronto no margin for error.
Yates surrendered an Adrian Gonzalez double and issued two consecutive walks after retiring Marcus Giles to begin the bottom of the seventh.
Cox, whose team will look to finish its road trip with a 6-4 record on Sunday night, doesn't think the Khalil Greene grounder induced by Paronto would have resulted in a double play. But he knows second baseman Yunel Escobar should have gotten at least one out on the play.
Instead, Cox had to watch Escobar make an errant flip toward second that took shortstop Edgar Renteria off the bag. Even if there wasn't a chance to register the double play, the Braves could have at least limited the damage in the three-run seventh, which was capped by Kevin Kouzmanoff's two-run single.
"The only play we had was at first because it was hit so slow," Cox said. "We tried to do something that we couldn't do. We wanted Chad to get the ground ball, he got it and it was too easy. I think the only play probably was to first."
This marked the seventh time in nine days that Yates has pitched, and it's safe to say he hasn't looked as dominant as he did in June, when in 11 appearances, he allowed just one earned run, surrendered five hits and issued five walks. In five appearances this month, he's worked three innings, allowed five earned runs and surrendered nine hits and issued just these two costly walks.
"I am fatigued," Yates said. "But your position players are out there every single day. [Jeff Francoeur] is out there every day, and [Andruw Jones] and [Brian McCann] is behind the plate six times a week. I'm not going to use it as an excuse because they are out there playing as hard as they can every day."
Even though the results might have signaled fatigue, Cox didn't exactly see a tired arm when he saw Yates throwing a few 96-mph fastballs. But at the same time, he wouldn't have minded not having to see the hard-throwing right-hander on the mound at all.
"I wasn't going to use him, but he said he could go," said Cox, whose team had won six of its previous seven games at PETCO Park.
Cox wouldn't have had to dig deep into his bullpen again if Reyes, who was starting in place of the injured John Smoltz, continued to pitch like he had in the first three innings, during which he allowed just one run and three baserunners. But things unraveled in the fourth, during which he didn't retire any of the five batters he faced.
"It's always good to get [the first start] out of the way," said Reyes, a native of Southern California, who had approximately 45 friends and family members in attendance for his big-league debut. "I wish I wouldn't have walked those guys."
After walking Giles and Gonzalez to begin the fourth, Reyes saw Mike Cameron drill a 3-2 hanging slider over the center-field wall. Two singles later, Reyes' afternoon was complete. Still, the young southpaw, who will start again on July 17 against the Reds, made a good first impression on Cox.
"He's got four good pitches and is a great athlete," Cox said. "He just needs games. I like him. He's got guts."
After surrendering a fourth-inning two-run homer to Francoeur in the fourth inning, Padres starter David Wells began arguing with plate umpire Ed Hickox, who promptly ejected the 44-year-old southpaw. Fortunately for the Padres, their bullpen held strong until Jones delivered his two-run, game-tying triple off Heath Bell, who has seen the Braves account for four of the 10 earned runs he's surrendered in 50 2/3 innings this year.
Francoeur's homer helped him celebrate the two-year anniversary of his Major League debut. Coincidently, this anniversary for the 23-year-old outfielder, who wears No. 7, came on the seventh day of the seventh calendar month of the seventh year of this decade.
Unfortunately the Braves weren't able to draw Lucky 7 benefits on yet another day that they were forced to tax their bullpen. But with a win in Sunday's series finale, they can still generate the momentum they've been hoping to take into the All-Star break.
"We've still got a chance to make this a real good road trip tomorrow night, even though today was frustrating," Francoeur said. "But that's just baseball."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.