video thumbnail

NYM@ATL: J. Upton tallies two homers, three RBIs

ATLANTA -- As his club has struggled to score runs during the early days of this season, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has said he would rather his most-pressing concerns be focused on his offense, instead of his pitching staff.

Offensive woes can be compensated for by strong pitching performances. And as the Braves were reminded during Thursday night's 6-4 loss to the Mets at Turner Field, an impressive offensive performance can easily go to waste, courtesy of shoddy pitching and defense.

"The outcome of the game wasn't great," Braves left fielder Justin Upton said. "But it's early in the season. There's a lot of ball to be played. We've got to keep our heads up and keep going in the right direction."

Upton homered in his first two at-bats against Mets starter Jenrry Mejia and his older brother, B.J. Upton, seemed to benefit from the quick tutorial Chipper Jones provided earlier in the day.

But with David Hale experiencing the worst of his four career starts and Luis Avilan denied the chance to complete what proved to be the decisive seventh inning, the Braves did not take advantage of the offensive contributions.

"When somebody comes in and doesn't do the job you expect them to do, it kind of screws up the entire rest of the way," Gonzalez said. "But it's still nine games into the season. So we'll figure that out and get some guys in the right situation."

With three of New York's first four scheduled hitters being left-handed, Gonzalez inserted Avilan, a lefty reliever, in the seventh with the hope that he would get through that stretch unscathed. He allowed two of the left-handed hitters -- Daniel Murphy and Curtis Granderson -- to reach safely and retired the third -- Ike Davis -- to account for the inning's second out.

Avilan was not bothered by the left hamstring cramps that forced him to exit Tuesday's game, and he threw just 12 pitches, including one wayward fastball that reached the screen, during that span of four plate appearances.

But instead of sticking with his veteran, who has limited right-handed hitters to a .205 batting average since the start of last year, Gonzalez turned to rookie right-hander Gus Schlosser, who surrendered Juan Lagares' decisive soft single to right that gave the Mets a 5-4 lead before recording the seventh inning's final out.

"That's not [Avilan]," Gonzalez said. "He usually goes 1-2-3 in that inning and gets those left-handers out and the game is still tied. If somebody doesn't do their job or get guys out they're supposed to get out, it puts guys in a situation where they're not comfortable yet."

This marked just the fourth time this season the Braves scored more than four runs. But the only thing that mattered was the fact that they surrendered more than four runs for the first time in nine games.

Though he was charged with four runs and five hits as he worked 4 1/3 innings without command of his patented sinker, Hale could have incurred a better fate with some defensive assistance. He had allowed just one run in the 16 innings that had encompassed his three previous career starts.

The Braves were willing to sacrifice defense for what they thought might be better offensive potential by using Ryan Doumit instead of Gerald Laird as their starting catcher. It didn't take long for that decision to become even more questionable than it was when the lineup was posted.

Doumit dropped a potential third-strike foul tip that gave Eric Young Jr. a chance to begin the game with the first of his three hits. Young raced to third base when Doumit's errant attempt to prevent him from stealing second base sailed into the outfield. Murphy followed with an RBI groundout.

"I felt good, but my fastball command wasn't great," Hale said. "I've just got to keep leadoff hitters off the bags and command that fastball a little better."

Young stole three bases and recorded each of his hits to begin an inning. This included a fifth-inning leadoff triple that fell out of B.J. Upton's glove as he neared the center field wall. Murphy then followed with game-tying single.

"When [Young] gets on base, he scores runs," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He showed it again tonight. He scored three runs and stole three bases. He got on base and creates things, makes things happen."

Justin Upton began his seventh career multi-homer performance with an opposite-field shot to begin the second inning. One inning later, after B.J. Upton was awarded a triple on a ball misplayed by Granderson in right field, the younger Upton connected on a two-run shot that sailed deep into the left-center field seats.

ESPN's Home Run Tracker estimated the distance of Upton's second home run to be 477 feet. This was the longest home run at Turner Field since Adam Dunn hit a 479-foot blast for the Nationals on Sept. 14, 2010.

"Tonight, I was just comfortable," Justin Upton said. "The only thing I can try to do is take that same exact feel into tomorrow night and the next day and try to make something of it." Comments