August 11, 2022

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Contreras' power, Anderson's masterful start lead Braves

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ATLANTA — William Contreras halted the roughest stretch of his All-Star season and Ian Anderson quieted thoughts of him going to the Minors by simply getting back to his carefree self.

Contreras enjoyed his third two-homer game of the season as the Braves claimed a 6-2 win over the D-backs on Saturday night at Truist Park. But the evening’s most encouraging development was constructed by Anderson, who carried a perfect game into the fifth inning and possibly lessened Atlanta’s urge to add a starting pitcher before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline.

“I think there was more conviction tonight,” Anderson said. “I kind of just went into it with the mentality of [forget] it in a way and just attack. It just kind of freed me up a little bit.”

Contreras hit a two-run homer in the second and added a solo shot in the fourth to provide more cushion for Anderson, who recorded nine strikeouts and allowed one hit over six scoreless innings. The right-hander posted a 6.62 ERA over his previous eight starts.

Anderson retired the first 14 batters he faced before allowing Jake McCarthy’s two-out double to the left-center-field gap in the fifth. He walked the next batter and then retired four straight to conclude his 97-pitch effort.

“We’re pulling like hell for him, that’s for sure,” manager Brian Snitker said. “That was really good to see him bounce back after that last one like he did. I was proud of him.”

Contreras’ third multi-homer game through just 46 starts also halted the frustration he had felt while hitting .185 with two homers and a .586 OPS over 75 plate appearances going back to June 19. His ability to be a productive asset will allow the Braves to provide more rest to starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who has just a .450 OPS over 69 plate appearances going back to June 29.

“He had two home runs to the opposite field,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “He was tracking the ball and letting it get deep. He looks like a very good young hitter. That’s the first time I’ve seen him. I was very impressed.”

The Braves have produced MLB’s best record (38-14) since the start of June, and they appear capable of making a run at a second straight World Series title. But it wouldn’t hurt to gain an outfielder and possibly a starting pitcher before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline. Anderson’s recent struggles strengthened the belief it may be wise to gain insurance for him and Spencer Strider, whose stamina is an uncertainty as he approaches the conclusion of his second professional season.

Entering Saturday, the thought was adding a starting pitcher would allow the Braves to send Anderson to Triple-A for a few weeks and then assess where he and Strider stood. But as this six-inning effort elapsed, Anderson looked more like the guy who posted a 3.58 ERA in 24 regular-season starts last year.

“I think I was out there just trusting what I did [last year],” Anderson said. “Then you have some failure and you kind of second guess everything. So getting back to being [relaxed] is going to be big for me going forward.

Anderson’s success was influenced by his willingness to throw his curveball more frequently than he has over the past month. He threw this pitch 23 times, which was five more times than he had thrown it in any of the previous 10 starts made since June 2, and 12 more times he had thrown it in either of his two previous starts going back to July 15.

The D-backs whiffed with four of eight swings against the curveball. This pitch had induced just one whiff or less in each of his past two starts.

Anderson’s curveball success enhanced the success of his great changeup and his four-seam fastball, which opponents had hit .327 against entering Saturday. An out was recorded with each of the three fastballs the D-backs put in play.

“He had all three pitches going tonight,” Contreras said through an interpreter. “He had a tremendous game, and I’m happy to see him have that kind of performance.”

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