MLB LOOK AHEAD

‘Battle-tested’ D-backs aim to keep Braves in check

Field Level Media

May 11, 2019 at 8:37 am.

The Atlanta Braves, looking for a spark, tinkered with their lineup on Friday night.

It worked well enough.

Atlanta managed just seven hits against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but one of those was a mammoth home run from new leadoff hitter Ronald Acuna Jr., whose eighth-inning blast was the difference in the Braves’ 2-1 victory.

That was Atlanta’s first win in five games against Arizona this season. The four-game series continues Saturday night in Phoenix — and so will those lineup changes.

“Been thinking about it. Kind of feel like things are stagnant,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, whose team had scored 12 runs in its previous five games.

“We’re not hitting good with runners in scoring position. It’s not any one thing pertinent to any one player. It’s about the total scope of things. We’ll see. We’ll run with it for a while, see what happens.”

The key moves were Snitker elevating Acuna from the cleanup spot to leadoff while dropping Josh Donaldson to cleanup. Snitker said Donaldson wasn’t getting enough RBI opportunities while hitting second.

Dansby Swanson had three hits Friday night from the No. 2 hole.

“That’s kind of what I was hoping for,” Snitker said. “We’re having trouble scoring runs. It would be good to get this thing rolling a little bit.”

Acuna’s home run traveled an estimated 466 feet, which was the Braves’ longest homer since Statcast began tracking distances in 2015.

He is not new to the leadoff spot, hitting there in 66 of his 108 starts last season. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .328 as a leadoff batter last season and hit .387 when leading off a game.

Seven of Arizona’s past 11 games — including each of the past three — were decided by one run. The D-backs are 4-3 in those contests.

“We’re battle-tested, that’s for sure,” said manager Torey Lovullo. “We’ve played tough games and won a lot of them. … These wear you down a little bit.

“Of course, I would choose a different path, but I know that these guys are tough and they enjoy this type of competition. I feel like we will win a lot of these type of games.”

Arizona will start 30-year-old rookie Merrill Kelly (3-3, 4.85 ERA) on Saturday. The right-hander, who has never faced Atlanta, is coming off a four-inning stint in Monday’s loss at the Tampa Bay Rays, who roughed him up for seven runs.

Atlanta will counter with Kevin Gausman (1-3, 5.00), who has two career starts against Arizona, one last season and the other on April 17, when he tied his career high by striking out 10. Gausman allowed three hits and two runs in seven innings, walking one, although he did not factor in the decision as the Diamondbacks won 3-2 in 10 innings.

That was Gausman’s last good appearance.

The right-hander has made four starts since then, allowing 14 earned runs in 16 innings. Included in that was an outing that lasted 1 2/3 innings at Miami on May 3, when he was ejected for throwing behind Miami starting pitcher Jose Urena, which was considered retaliation for Urena hitting Acuna on the elbow last season.

Gausman came back three days later to start at the Los Angeles Dodgers, lasting 4 1/3 innings and taking the loss after allowing seven hits and five runs (three earned). He also walked four.