December 9, 2022

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Comeback win marked big developments for these 3 Braves

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ATLANTA — Thanks to Austin Riley redeeming himself after a costly error and Marcell Ozuna proving there is still power in his bat, Charlie Morton could fully savor a start that indicated he may truly be back to being his dominant self.  

Braves manager Brian Snitker playfully said he was exhausted after riding a wave of emotions during a 6-5 win over the Padres on Saturday afternoon at Truist Park. After Morton cruised through six innings, the Braves surrendered and regained a lead during an eighth inning that proved to be both brutal and delightful.

“I couldn’t have laid in bed and dreamed about a bad outcome to come even close to that,” Snitker said about the top of the eighth. “How those guys bounced back was unbelievable.”

Here’s a quick recap: Matt Olson homered off his good friend and former A’s teammate Sean Manaea in the first inning but made a costly error that helped the Padres score four unearned runs in the eighth. Suddenly, it looked like the Braves had wasted the strong outing produced by Morton, who dropped his ERA below 5.00 while recording a season-high nine strikeouts over six innings. 

Smith’s second blown save in less than 24 hours was also marred by a throwing error made by Riley, who just happened to hit the go-ahead double when the Braves matched San Diego’s four runs in the eighth. Got it?

“I feel like I’ve been having a lot of opportunities to capitalize in situations and just haven’t come through,” Riley said. “After that throwing error, to come back and do that for the team, that was huge. I’m thankful and happy I could finally put together an at-bat.” 

A potentially deflating game was filled with big moments from players who either redeemed themselves, halted long slumps or created further reason to believe they are heading in the right direction. Here are the key figures that fit these descriptions:

Charlie Morton
When Morton tossed five scoreless innings against the Brewers on Sunday, he separated himself from the frustration he had felt while producing a 6.85 ERA in his previous five starts to begin the season. As he consistently induced swings-and-misses while limiting the Padres to one run over six innings, he looked like the elite hurler he was for most of the past few years.

“The thing I really look for is the swing-and-miss because that’s telling me what my stuff is doing,” Morton said. “I feel like that’s what I build on.”

Well, Morton induced a season-high 15 whiffs on the 43 swings the Padres took against him. This equates to a 34.9 percent whiff rate, which would have been his seventh-best mark produced in any game last year. 

How does this rate differ from what we had seen earlier this year? Well, Morton had induced more than seven whiffs in just two of his previous six outings this year.  The Padres whiffed with eight of the 21 swings taken just against his curveball in this latest start. 

“He took another step forward from Sunday,” Snitker said. “That was really encouraging.”

Austin Riley
This has been an eventful stretch for the young third baseman, who got off to a good start and showed some papa power after becoming a parent for the first time in April. But he entered this game with a .723 OPS over his past 17 games. He was 2-for-22 with one homer and nine strikeouts with runners in scoring position during this span. 

But after airmailing a throw into right field during the top of the eighth, Riley jumped on Steven Wilson’s elevated fastball and sent it into left-center field in the bottom half of the frame. His game-winning double capped a three-hit day.

“We don’t ever give up until the final out, and I think that puts pressure on teams knowing they have to compete until the final out,” Riley said.

Marcell Ozuna
As the Braves made a pitching change in the top of the eighth, Ozuna and center fielder Guillermo Heredia convened in the outfield and talked about how crazy baseball can be. Somewhere within this conversation, Ozuna received some of the encouragement that helped him hit his game-tying homer against Wilson’s 3-2, two-out slider.

Ozuna struck out in his first three at-bats of the day and he entered the game with a .346 OPS over his past 17 games. This was his first homer in a span of 89 at-bats, going back to an April 17 game in San Diego.

“This is big for us because everybody knows what we can do in this clubhouse,” Ozuna said. “Everybody knows we can come back at any time and any day. Today was one of those days.”

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