Vazquez stellar, but offense not so hot
Braves unable to plate runs for right-hander in tough loss
ATLANTA -- Javier Vazquez's locker stands adjacent to Jair Jurrjens' at Turner Field. If the Braves continue to make them feel deserted whenever they step on the mound, Atlanta may want to place a psychologist between these two justifiably frustrated right-handed pitchers.
Following the same script that doomed Jurrjens during Friday night's series opener against Boston, Vazquez was reintroduced to his own ongoing nightmare when the Braves' offense once again slumbered during Saturday afternoon's 1-0 loss to the Red Sox.
"They pitched awesome," Chipper Jones said of Jurrjens and Vazquez. "That's probably the most disappointing thing to me, because baseball is about picking up your teammates. I know we're not picking up the pitching staff. It's frustrating."
With Jones in the midst of a forgettable 17-game slump and both Nate McLouth and Yunel Escobar battling injuries, the depleted Braves lineup managed just three hits in six innings against Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield and then suffered their ninth shutout loss of the season, when Casey Kotchman followed Garret Anderson's two-out ninth-inning double with a game-ending groundout against closer Jonathan Papelbon.
"It's tough to get two-out hits all of the time," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team has gone hitless in 16 at-bats with runners in scoring position during the first two games of this series.
While going 1-3 with a 1.90 ERA in his past six starts, Vazquez has every reason to wonder just how hard it is for the Braves to simply provide a timely hit any time that he's on the mound. Limiting the Red Sox to one run and six hits over 7 2/3 innings simply led him to his fourth loss in his past five decisions.
Vazquez's lone damage came courtesy of Mark Kotsay's two-out sixth-inning RBI single, which followed a disputed walk to David Ortiz. After Kotsay's single, the hard-luck right-hander retired six straight before seeing his outing end with Kevin Youkilis' two-out eighth-inning triple.
As Cox approached the mound to make the pitching change, Vazquez stomped his right foot. He said his emotional reaction was simply a response to the fact that he didn't provide himself a chance to complete the inning.
"He's been a workhorse," Cox said of Vazquez. "He goes deep into games. He's in great condition. He leads the league in strikeouts or is close to it, and he doesn't have anything to show for it."
This marked the fifth time that Vazquez has pitched into the eighth inning this season, and the Braves have won just one of those games. Making the frustrations more timely is the fact that the 32-year-old hurler has gone winless while pitching beyond the seventh inning in three of his past four outings.
"We've got to keep our heads up and keep battling," said Vazquez, while including Jurrjens, who has seen the Braves score just five runs during the past 30 innings that he's pitched. "The guys are going to come out of this."
After allowing a pair of first-inning singles, Vazquez limited the Red Sox to just two more singles over the course of the next four frames. He had retired seven straight batters before he issued a two-out walk to Youkilis in the sixth inning.
"Vazquez was throwing," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Some of his stuff was filthy. Some of that offspeed stuff was unhittable."
After walking Youkilis, Vazquez got ahead of Ortiz with an 0-2 count before he walked him ahead of Kotsay's decisive single to left.
While it appeared that home-plate umpire Marty Foster could have rung up Ortiz on at least one of those sixth-inning pitches, Cox, Vazquez and Braves catcher Brian McCann all chose to praise Foster's strike zone during their postgame interviews.
"I really don't want to talk about that," Vazquez said. "The umpire called a great game the whole day."
While Vazquez might have enjoyed a strong day, Jones, who has hit .167 with one RBI in his last 17 games, endured another fruitless one. After Gregor Blanco began the sixth with a single off Wakefield and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt, Jones lined out.
McCann, who has been battling flu-like symptoms throughout the week, then ended the threat when Wakefield induced an inning-ending groundout.
While facing the Braves for the second time in six days, Wakefield was still able to produce regular deception with his knuckleball. Other than the sixth inning, the only other time he pitched with a runner in scoring position was the second, when McCann successfully converted another of his surprise stolen-base attempts before he was left stranded by Jeff Francoeur's flyout to center.
"It's always a little bit of a downer when you go out and get three hits off of a guy throwing 65 mph," Jones said. "It was dancing around pretty good. Not too many guys got good swings off of him."
The same could be said for Vazquez. But again, he had nothing to show for yet another stellar effort.
"Wakefield has his knuckler going as good as you can get it," McCann said. "I know you have to tip your cap. But we've been saying that too much this year."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.