Braves can't keep up with Reds
Eight innings not enough for Vazquez as offense stumbles
CINCINNATI -- Javier Vazquez felt this would have been a definite gem within any other ballpark. But given that he was pitching within a stadium where the long ball reigns and the Braves fight to remain sane, the veteran pitcher was forced to deal with the consequences of Micah Owings' mighty swing.
Two of the most composed figures on the Braves' roster -- Vazquez and Brian McCann -- both found it difficult to hide the frustration created by the 4-3 loss suffered against the Reds at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday night.
"It's happening too much," said Vazquez after his complete-game four-hitter simply put him in line to be the latest member of the Braves' rotation to suffer a hard-luck loss.
While losing for the sixth time in their past seven games, the Braves went hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position and consequently never negated the damage Owings created when he took Vazquez's 0-1 fastball and drilled it over the right-center-field wall for what proved to be a decisive three-run homer in the fifth.
Vazquez acknowledged the fact that Owings is a rare breed, whose offensive contributions often outweigh what he does on the mound. But he wasn't willing to say that the 26-year-old pitcher took advantage of a misplaced pitch.
"I didn't think it was, but in this stadium it is," Vazquez said. "There's nothing I can do about that. It's a small stadium, so there's nothing you can do about that."
With just two wins in their past 11 games in Cincinnati, the Braves certainly have little reason to like the offense-friendly confines of Great American Ball Park. They wasted a 12-hit attack during Tuesday night's series opener and then found themselves lamenting the fact that they didn't provide adequate support on a night when Vazquez allowed just four hits over eight innings.
"When you pitch a four-hitter in this ballpark, you think you're going to win," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Vazquez once again pitched a great game."
On his way to becoming the first Braves pitcher with a complete game this year, Vazquez was solely damaged by Owings' three-run shot and a two-out second-inning solo shot supplied by Jay Bruce, who is now hitting .571 (16-for-28) with five homers in eight career games against the Braves.
Vazquez didn't allow a home run while winning his only two previous starts at Great American Ball Park.
Like Bruce, Owings has found nothing but regular success against the Braves. While limiting them to two runs over six innings, he escaped a couple of jams and was damaged solely by Yunel Escobar's two-run homer in the second inning.
Owings, who grew up approximately an hour north of Atlanta, is now 4-0 with a 2.77 ERA in four career starts against the Braves. In addition, in a span of just 14 at-bats, he has collected three of his seven career homers against them.
"That's crazy," Owings said. "You know what? Sometimes I can't explain how things work. I'm just fortunate."
While Owings felt fortunate, the usually upbeat McCann found himself dejected after coming up empty during two key at-bats. Following back-to-back singles by Escobar and Chipper Jones to begin the fifth, the All-Star catcher grounded into a double play.
"It seemed like every time I came up I had a chance to have an impact on the game, and I just didn't get it done," said McCann, who entered the game hitting .342 with runners in scoring position.
The Braves also let Owings off the hook in the fourth inning, which began with Jeff Francoeur lacing a single to center and then sprinting to third base when Reds center fielder Willy Taveras slipped. But when Kelly Johnson followed with a weak fly to shallow center, the rally seemed less promising.
Vazquez followed with a pop fly and McLouth ended the inning by flying out to right field.
"We swung at some bad balls with runners in scoring position," Cox said. "We've got to improve on that or we're never going to knock them in."
This marked the second successive start that Vazquez has pitched at least eight innings and suffered a loss. During each of his past five games that he's started, the Braves have scored three runs or fewer.
"You've got to have some run support," Cox said. "We have to get better with pitch selection and RBI situations. That's all there is to it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.