video thumbnail

ATL@TB: Francisco's single drives in first Braves run

ST. PETERSBURG -- The second contest of the Braves' three-game Interleague set against the Rays on Saturday was supposed to be another step in the farewell journey of Chipper Jones.

Unfortunately, Jones' tour of St. Petersburg ended early, after the future Hall of Famer sustained a left calf bruise during Friday's 5-3 series-opening win.

The Braves were left to battle the Rays without him, and like other games without Jones this season, Atlanta suffered a 5-2 loss in front of 27,433 at Tropicana Field.

Entering the contest with a 19-5 record this season when Jones is in the lineup, the Braves lost for the 11th time in 17 games without the 19-year veteran.

The Braves could not capitalize on several opportunities against Rays starter Alex Cobb, the 24-year-old right-hander recalled from Triple-A Durham following Friday's game. Atlanta managed to score two runs in the second inning against Cobb, who went 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in nine starts last season before undergoing season-ending surgery in August to remove a blood clot and blockage in an area of his first right rib.

After the Braves failed to produce results in the first, following a leadoff single by Michael Bourn and a walk by Martin Prado, they appeared to be on the verge of making Cobb's day short in the second. Three consecutive singles by Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Juan Francisco plated a run and set up an eventual sacrifice fly by Eric Hinske.

But the offensive production ended for the Braves once Cobb escaped the inning, striking out Tyler Pastornicky and getting Bourn to pop out.

"Once he fell into a rhythm, he started trusting his fastball and he made it tough for us," said McCann, who went 1-for-4 and extended his hitting streak to five games. "He kept us off balance for the most part and made some decent pitches later in the game."

Cobb also gained some confidence after Braves starter Randall Delgado surrendered a grand slam to Matt Joyce in the third inning.

"It turns the momentum right around into our favor," said Cobb, who was 1-4 with a 4.14 ERA in eight starts at Durham before an injury to Jeff Niemann forced the Rays to make a move. "We're already down by two, [and I'm] trying my hardest not to get down by three. Start to nitpick a little bit and being up by two runs, I'm able to let them put the ball into play, not worry too much about getting further into a hole."

Making the 15th start of his career and eighth of the season, Delgado had done quite well over his three previous outings. He allowed just four runs (three earned) over 20 1/3 innings, while walking just six.

Free passes led to Delgado's demise on Saturday.

"I think it was my fastball," said Delgado, who tossed 84 pitches, 43 for strikes. "I could not get ahead of hitters, left pitches off the plate."

The second-year Major Leaguer issued two walks to begin the second inning, and had runners on second and third after a sacrifice bunt by Sean Rodriguez. But Heyward made a highlight-reel play when he settled in under a fly ball to right by Will Rhymes and rifled a strike to McCann, who quickly tagged out Carlos Pena just before Pena's hand touched home.

"It kept the game, right there, within striking distance," McCann said. "He can do everything on a baseball field that you want and he put it right there."

Unfortunately, no stellar plays in the field could prevent the Rays from taking a lead they would not relinquish.

Delgado put Elliot Johnson on base with a walk to start the third, then allowed a single to Chris Gimenez into the hole at short before Delgado retired Ben Zobrist on a soft groundout back to him. Delgado did himself no favors by walking B.J. Upton, which brought the lefty-swinging Joyce to the plate.

After tossing two balls, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell visited the mound.

"We had a decision to make -- either throw him a fastball or a changeup," McCann said. "It was a sinker, middle. When you walk a couple guys in the inning and you fall behind 2-0, you're just trying to throw a strike."

The pitch was a strike, which Joyce smashed over the center-field wall.

"When you're dealing with a young kid, it's a learning start for him," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He just fell behind hitters. It's a learning process. You give up a run, you're not giving up four. I think that's a learning thing, minimizing the damage."

Delgado escaped damage in the fourth after allowing two batters to reach base with two outs, when he forced Zobrist into an inning-ending groundout.

Fearing the game might turn on Delgado even more, Gonzalez decided to go to his bullpen.

"You felt like you were in the game the whole time, and that's why we made the decision in the fourth inning. You know what, it's a two-run game. Obviously, he's struggling to get through the game, through the lineup," Gonzalez said. "The third time through, they're going to go through the top of their order, let's take a shot with Cristhian [Martinez]."

Martinez's only blemish came in the sixth, when he gave up a solo homer to Sean Rodriguez. But he was able to keep the Braves in the game over the 2 1/3 innings he pitched.

The Braves, who entered the game tied for second in the Majors with 212 runs (along with the Cardinals), just could not find any type of groove after the fourth. Over the last five innings, Atlanta failed to reach base against Cobb and Tampa Bay relievers Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney, who recorded his 100th career save and his 13th consecutive to start the season.

"It felt like we were in the game, but we just weren't able to break through," Gonzalez said.

The loss was just the third in the last nine games for the Braves, who dropped to 17-7 this season when in games where they score first.

MLB.com Comments