There was a lot at stake for the Braves going into Sunday's Game 3 versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. On the back of a five game losing streak, the offense had been shut out in consecutive games for the first time since early 2007 and the team had looked dismal in those first two games of the series.
With the series already dead, the Braves had to look to get back to winning ways, having dropped below .500 for the year for the first time after Saturday's loss. They did it in style. The offense finally awakened and crushed the Pirates 11-1.
On the mound, Javier Vazquez was making his third start of the season and was somehow 0-1 on the year, despite two terrific starts. However, today he pitched well and got the reward he deserved. Vazquez was not as electrifying as in his last start versus the Marlins, where he struck out 12, but he was solid and in six innings gave up no runs for five hits and a walk, striking out eight on the day.
Vazquez's opponent, Zach Duke, did not fare so well. The Braves got on top of him right from the start, getting the lead-off man on base in each of the first four innings. Though he lasted six innings, Duke surrendered six runs on twelve hits, striking out just two. Every starter except Vazquez had at least one hit on the day as the offense erupted from its slump in style.
Martin Prado picked up his first home run of the year off Duke, with David Ross knocking in his first in the 7th inning off Pirates reliever Craig Hansen. Ross was filling in for Brian McCann, who has been referred to a specialist to look at his persistent eye injury. The Braves will hope it is nothing serious as they do not need a long term injury right now to their all-star catcher.
Returning from injury today was Chipper Jones, out for the entire losing streak with a bruised thumb. Chipper wasted no time in getting back to form though, going 2-3 with a walk. Amazingly, the Braves' record with Jones in the side reads 6-1, without him they are 0-5. Needless to say, his presence in the side was welcomed today.
The bullpen even decided to show up today and contribute. Though James Parr gave up a run in the ninth, the outing was far more solid. Pete Moylan and Jeff Bennett both retired the side in the 7th and 8th inning, respectively. Moylan seems to be finding his groove now, whilst despite heavy criticism in the last week, Bennett's ERA remains the lowest in the bullpen at 1.29.
Next up for the Braves is a trip to the capital to face the Nationals. Derek Lowe (1-0) starts against Jordan Zimmerman (0-0) at 7:05pm. The Nationals are 1-11 on the year so far, so the Braves will be optimistic of at least a series win.
19th April 2009