Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman broke out of a slump and led a 7-4 Atlanta victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night.
Freeman catches fire: Freddie Freeman started slowly during the Braves’ first five games. His generally impeccable timing went astray after he missed a portion of summer camp battling coronavirus. He broke out in a big way during the Braves’ home opener, going 4-for-5 with three RBI and finishing a triple shy of the cycle. His two-run home run in the third inning gave Atlanta an early lead. An RBI single in the sixth off of Oliver Drake gave the Braves a lead that would remain. He would’ve had an additional RBI had the Rays not executed a perfect relay from right to throw out Ronald Acuna Jr. at the plate. Freeman started 2-for-14 through five games, though his six walks showcased his patience. The Braves will gain momentum if Freeman continues his hot hitting from Wednesday.
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Morton improving: Rays starter Charlie Morton fared far better than his opening day outing. He allowed two runs, both on Freeman’s homer, and struck out seven in five innings. He still didn’t have consistent command of his breaking ball, but he was in line for the win after the Rays took a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning. Morton’s poise is his best asset as he works into midseason form. He’s shown flashes of dominance. Expect an ace-like outing soon.
Benign bullpen: The Rays normally dominant bullpen had a rare lapse as Andrew Kittredge and Oliver Drake combined to blow the Rays’ two-run lead as quickly as it was built. Kittredge gave up consecutive hard-hit doubles to ex-Ray Travis d’Arnaud and Dansby Swanson in the sixth before retiring Austin Riley for the first out. He gave way to Drake, who immediately walked Ender Inciarte. Drake appeared to be out of trouble two batters later, but Joey Wendle couldn’t corral Ozzie Albies’ slow roller to second. Freeman took advantage by hitting his aforementioned game-winning single.
Lefty Jose Alvarado opened the seventh inning to preserve the one-run deficit and struggled. Consecutive doubles by Marcell Ozuna and Johan Camargo led to a sacrifice fly, a wild pitch, and a Willy Adames throwing error. The deficit rose to three, providing insurance for Atlanta’s relievers. The Rays’ bullpen may be the best in baseball. Wednesday wasn’t their best showing.
Defensive letdown: Tampa Bay’s style has long been a combination of dominant pitching and excellent defense. Their glovework disappointed simliarly to the pitching on Wednesday. They left their fundamentals in St. Petersburg as they made two official errors and two other crucial misplays. A botched infield popup in the second, which turned out to be harmless, was uncharacteristic. That error was charged to Joey Wendle. Wendle’s bobble in the sixth was ruled a base hit for Ozzie Albies, though it could’ve been considered an error.
Kevin Kiermaier had an eventful night also. Although he gunned down two baserunners, both during Freeman hits, he poorly judged Johan Camargo’s double at the centerfield wall in the seventh inning. Marcell Ozuna didn’t score from second as he also poorly judged the long fly, but the misplay set the stage for Atlanta’s two insurance runs to score. Kiermaier’s stellar defense is on display every night. Wednesday’s mistake hurt, but he has plenty of hardware to prove that mistakes won’t become a trend.