Braves shut out in opener vs. Dodgers
Offense musters three hits as Hanson loses second game
ATLANTA -- Playing with a depleted lineup, Atlanta made Jason Schmidt look more like the All-Star he was in 2002, '03 and '06 than a pitcher who had given up seven earned runs in 10 innings coming into Friday's start.
The Braves were without the services of Yunel Escobar, Martin Prado and newly acquired Adam LaRoche, and they managed just one hit off of Schmidt in six innings on their way to a 5-0 series-opening loss to the Dodgers at Turner Field.
With Diory Hernandez, Kelly Johnson and Barbaro Canizares filling in for the missing starters, Atlanta's offense reverted to the punchless attack that plagued the club in the first half of the season.
"We couldn't do a lot of things," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "We hit the ball well early against [Schmidt], but they were right at people and along the warning track."
Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who had the only hit off of Schmidt, acknowledged that the Friday night version of Schmidt was far different than the pitcher he was used to seeing. However, there was no arguing Schmidt's effectiveness.
"His fastball was minus about seven or eight mph," Jones said. "This is the first time I've ever faced him that he's never thrown me a changeup. There's just not that much difference between his changeup and his fastball right now. But his curveball is much improved."
To support his pitcher's strong effort, Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier belted a three-run home run off Braves starter Tommy Hanson in the fifth inning to supply Los Angeles with all the offense it would need. Russell Martin led off the inning with a single, before Hanson retired Orlando Hudson and Schmidt. However, Rafael Furcal kept the inning alive with a two-out single and Ethier followed with the decisive blow.
"It was a slider away," Hanson said of the home run pitch to Ethier. "I threw it where I wanted to throw it. Looking back, maybe I should have thrown something else. I threw a bad pitch, and he let me know."
Despite playing without two of their hottest hitters and starting a first baseman who began the day with Triple-A Gwinnett, the Braves had chances to score against Schmidt. They got a pair of runners on base in the first, third and fourth innings, but couldn't manage to push across any runs. Schmidt recorded just three strikeouts and walked five batters, but nothing Atlanta put in play seemed to fall.
"A lot of the walks Schmidt had came with two outs," Cox said. "If you get those with less than two outs, now we're talking. Maybe something will fall in, but it didn't happen."
After the Dodgers added another run in the top of the seventh, the bottom of the Braves' order started a rally in the bottom half of the frame.
Hernandez and Greg Norton hit back-to-back singles to start the inning, marking just the second time in the game the Braves got the leadoff hitter on base. The Dodgers countered with newly-acquired George Sherrill, who struck out Nate McLouth and Johnson before walking Jones to load the bases. The rally ended there, however, when Brian McCann struck out looking representing the tying run.
McCann's strikeout seemed to take the air out of any comeback attempt, and the Braves' offense scuffled through the final two innings. The Dodgers added a run in the ninth to put the game further out of reach.
Hanson fell victim to shaky command within the strike zone, as he left too many pitches up and over the plate. He went six innings, allowing eight hits while striking out four. Hanson has now lost his past two starts after going eight starts until he suffered his first big league defeat.
Despite the outcome, Hanson made an impact on Dodgers manager Joe Torre. Torre had seen Hanson pitch on television, and compared him to his own young gun, Clayton Kershaw.
"He knows what he's doing," Torre said regarding Hanson. "We have one on our side that's pretty good, too. He was very impressive watching him on TV. He changes speeds the way he does, he has a feel for what he's doing. He's really a plus for the Braves, for sure."
The Braves will again be without the services of Escobar on Saturday, but Prado could start and LaRoche is expected to be in Atlanta by the time the game starts. Prado pinch-hit in the ninth and flied out to the warning track in center field.
The Rockies, Brewers and Marlins all won on Friday to pick up ground on the Braves in the National League Wild Card race. Still, Atlanta says it isn't panicking and hopes to rebound on Saturday with a replenished lineup and former Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe on the mound against Randy Wolf. Wolf has surrendered 11 earned runs in his past 11 innings pitched against the Braves.
Adam Rosenberg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.