Vazquez's striking display not enough
Right-hander mows down Marlins over six solid innings
ATLANTA -- Javier Vazquez introduced himself to his hometown fans in an impressive manner. But while registering yet another double-digit strikeout total, the Braves right-hander was outdueled by one of those imposing young hurlers that inhabit Florida's strong starting rotation.
Vazquez's 12-strikeout performance was trumped by Chris Volstad, who produced seven stellar innings while leading the Marlins to a 5-1 win over the Braves at Turner Field on Tuesday night.
"We got shut down," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "Volstad pitched well. It just wasn't a good night for us swinging the bats. You have to tip your cap to him. He pitched great. We just couldn't figure him out."
While limiting the Braves to three hits and one run in seven innings, Volstad prevented the Braves from overcoming the decisive blow Dan Uggla produced when he snuck a two-out, third-inning grounder up the middle for a two-run single.
Uggla's ability to power a two-seam fastball past a diving Yunel Escobar with the bases loaded marred an otherwise strong Atlanta debut for Vazquez, who was acquired in a December trade with the White Sox.
"I threw the pitch I wanted," Vazquez said. "I wanted to throw a fastball down in the zone, hopefully to get a ground ball, and it went through."
Such was the tough luck Vazquez encountered while limiting the Marlins to three runs and five hits in six innings. The 33-year-old right-hander's 12 strikeouts were two shy of the career-best total he registered while pitching for the Expos in an April 8, 2003, loss to the Cubs.
"It's always tough to lose," Vazquez said. "I think I threw too many pitches in the first three innings and then after that I felt like I settled in nice."
After needing just 12 pitches to complete a perfect first inning, Vazquez surrendered a pair of inconsequential two-out singles during a 26-pitch second inning before beginning the decisive 27-pitch third inning by surrendering a leadoff single to the speedy Emilio Bonifacio, who advanced to third base when John Baker followed with a single.
"Our game plan going in was to keep him off the bases," McCann said of Bonifacio, who has compiled a .500 on-base percentage during the first seven games of the season. "He's probably the fastest guy in baseball. If you're going to be successful, you've got to keep him off the basepaths."
With runners at first and third, Vazquez struck out Hanley Ramirez before issuing a five-pitch walk to Ross Gload to load the bases and set the stage for Uggla, who entered the game hitting .395 in his career with the bases loaded.
The walk to Gload was the only free pass Vazquez issued during his 106-pitch outing.
"In that situation, I didn't really want to walk Gload," Vazquez said. "But it's part of the game, I guess."
While notching just four strikeouts, the 6-foot-8 Volstad kept the Braves off-balance with a heavy dose of sinkers. The lone blemish during his seven-inning outing came when Kelly Johnson opened the fourth inning with his third homer of the season.
"He's got a pretty good sinker and we just didn't put good wood on it tonight," Johnson said. "He didn't hit many barrels and we didn't put too much pressure on the defense to have to make plays. That was the kind of game it ended up being. We needed to put some pressure on the other team and we never did."
The Braves' best threat came after Martin Prado began the sixth inning with pinch-hit double and advanced to third with a Yunel Escobar walk and Chipper Jones groundout. But with two outs, McCann hit a hard grounder that Gload gloved before stepping on first base.
"That might have been the game right there," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
While claiming sole possession of first place in the NL East, the Marlins put the game away with a two-run eighth that was aided by the fact that Garret Anderson dropped his second foul ball of the evening. This was also the Atlanta debut for Anderson, who had missed the previous four games with an aggravated right calf muscle that had forced him to miss most of Spring Training.
Anderson's second miscue drew some boos and also provided Bonifacio the chance to reach on an infield single that allowed him to show his speed while racing from first base on an RBI double that Baker delivered into the left-field corner off Jeff Bennett.
"They were better than us tonight," McCann said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.