Strider, Acuña Sharp as Braves Down Diamondbacks

Ronald Acuna Jr of the Braves running out a home run against the Diamondbacks.
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Braves 5, Diamondbacks 2

PHOENIX, June 3 — Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr.went 2-for-5 with a stolen base and a tape-measure home run, leading his team to a 5–2 victory over the host Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday night. The 36,529 in attendance at Chase Field also saw Braves right-hander Spencer Strider hold the Diamondbacks to two runs on three hits with four walks, a homer, and seven strikeouts to keep the Diamondbacks at bay.

“There’s a lot of octane in that fastball,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said of Strider. “And he commands it. Usually you see somebody that’s throwing the ball in the upper 90s, they’re not going to be able to throw it on edges. He was very sharp on each edge of the plate, reading swings, throwing quality secondary stuff to right-handed hitters. Maybe a slider, curveball — whatever his breaking ball shape was — I think he changes shapes a little bit. He’s very aggressive with all his pitches and doesn’t back down.”

Braves Take Early Lead

The Braves threatened to take the lead off Diamondbacks starter Ryne Nelson in the top of the second after a leadoff double by catcher Sean Murphy. An unassisted groundout to first by left fielder Eddie Rosario advanced Murphy to third. Second baseman Ozzie Albies flied to left for the second out, but it was too shallow for Murphy to dare test Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s arm. Designated hitter Marcell Ozuna worked a nine-pitch walk, putting runners on the corners as Diamondbacks pitching coach Brent Strom came to the mound. After Strom talked to the battery and the entire infield, shortstop Orlando Arcia popped sky-high to his counterpart, retiring the side.

A leadoff double in the bottom of the second by third baseman Emmanuel Rivera went to waste. Designated hitter Evan Longoria hit a rollover grounder to third before third baseman Josh Rojas fanned and catcher Gabriel Moreno grounded to second, with Ozzie Albies making a slick play to field the ball deep in the hole.

The Braves pounced on the Diamondbacks’ inability to cash in, pushing across a run in the top of the third. With one out, right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. cracked a double to left. As first baseman Matt Olson batted, Acuña stole third. Olson ultimately walked before third baseman Austin Riley belted a deep fly to center. Had Acuña not stolen third, it would have been a harmless second out. Instead, this turned into a go-ahead sacrifice fly.

It became a 2–0 game in the top of the fourth after a leadoff triple to center by Rosario. Albies walked to put runners on the corners for Ozuna, whose single plated Rosario. After a fly to center by shortstop Orlando Arcia, center fielder Michael Harris II grounded into a side-retiring 5–6–3 double play.

Diamondbacks Try to Chip Away, but Braves Remain in Command

Longoria made the score 3–1 on a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the fifth. That score only held up for a half-inning, as Ozuna and Arcia led off the sixth against Drey Jameson with singles to center and right, respectively. Ozuna reached third on the latter, allowing him to score on a double-play groundout by Harris. Up came Acuña with the bases empty and two out. Jameson hung a 2–1 sinker near the belt, and Acuña made him pay.

Dearly.

Acuña unleashed a ballistic missile, one that landed 464 feet away from the plate, splitting the two support beams for the lineup board in left-center for the longest home run at Chase Field in recent memory. This gave the Braves a commanding 5–1 lead.

Making a Game Out of It

Or so it seemed. The Diamondbacks got back in the game in the bottom of the seventh. Rivera led off with a single to right, ending Strider’s day after six innings plus one batter. In came Jesse Chavez, who struck out Longoria, the first to face him. Rojas singled to right, advancing Rivera to second. Moreno drew a walk, loading the bases for Geraldo Perdomo, who notched a painful RBI when a pitch hit him in the back of the thigh.

This made the score 5–2, but the Diamondbacks squandered a golden opportunity to do more damage. Right fielder Pavin Smith struck out looking, bringing up Ketel Marte. He worked the count to 3–1 before swinging at and missing a changeup near his ankles. With the count now full and the runners going, Marte watched a thigh-high cutter sail past him over the heart of the plate for an inning-ending called third strike.

Jameson and Kevin Ginkel pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth, respectively, to keep the deficit at three. Braves reliever Nick Anderson pitched around a one-out Gurriel double in the eighth. In came Raisel Iglesias to pitch the bottom of the ninth. A one-out single by Moreno put the tying run on deck, but that was as close as the Diamondbacks came. Perdomo grounded to second before Smith hit a soft liner to the same place, sealing the 5–2 victory for the Braves.

Ryne Nelson

Nelson lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits while walking four and striking out…no one. Despite the holes, Nelson felt he had taken steps in the right direction. But the overriding feeling from him was disappointment that the team didn’t win.

Nelson has only 37 on the season — last in the NL among pitchers with at least one inning pitched per team game. He has struggled to finish off hitters, getting several to two strikes before either walking a player or seeing him put the ball in play. Lovullo had some theories on pitch shape, but his overall sentiment was “the secondary stuff hasn’t been as consistent” as he knows Nelson probably wants it.

Quick Hits

When Acuña ran out his home run, he took a stutter step at third. A contingent of the Diamondbacks faithful did not appreciate the gesture. Many “old school” baseball fans, players, coaches, and managers take exception to actions such as this. But Lovullo was not one of them. “He’s a great player,” Lovullo said. “And he hit a long home run. He did what he did, and it’s okay. It’s all good.” … Lovullo left first baseman Christian Walker, who wanted to play, out of the lineup as a scheduled day off. “I’ve got to be the parent in the room and say ‘sit tight for right now, and we’ll get you back on your feet as soon as possible,’” Lovullo said. He added that more might be coming Sunday.

Looking Ahead

Strider (6–2) earned the win, while Nelson (2–3) took the loss. Iglesias notched his sixth save of the season. The Diamondbacks (35–24) and Braves (34–24) will finish their three-game series Sunday afternoon. Michael Soroka (0–1, 6.00 ERA) will take the hill for the Braves in his second start since returning from a 2020 Achilles injury, facing Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen (7–2, 2.72 ERA).

First pitch will be at 1:10 pm Arizona time. Outside of the Arizona and Atlanta markets, the game will be televised nationally on MLB Network. Each team will also have their contracted regional networks carrying the game — Bally Sports Arizona and Bally Sports Southeast.

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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