Aaron Harang bordered on unhittable in his first five starts with Atlanta, and the Braves jumped out to one of the best starts in baseball.
Things have since gone south for the individual and the club, and Harang is now charged with stopper duties Monday night as the Braves try to end a six-game losing streak in the opener of a three-game series against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.After a 17-7 start, Atlanta (17-13) has been swept in Miami and at home against San Francisco. Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Giants was the Braves' third straight game with just one run, and they've been held to 11 in their last seven.Freddie Freeman went 0 for 4 and is 2 for 23 in six games while Evan Gattis also went 0 for 4 and is 2 for 21 over seven contests."We just got one run. Again," said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose club is on its longest skid since dropping eight straight May 21-28, 2012. "I don't want to use the word frustrating, and I won't, but I don't know if there's another word I could use. But we're too talented offensively to not be able to put a crooked number up."That's the kind of eruption that Harang (3-2, 2.97 ERA) served up in Miami on Wednesday. The right-hander had allowed three runs on 15 hits in his previous five starts before the Marlins tagged him for nine runs and 10 hits in the 9-3 loss."I just felt like I wasn't as sharp early on," Harang told the team's official website. "I was falling behind early in the count and having to come back a little bit more to the middle of the plate than I would have liked. When you fall behind, it puts you in a hole right away."Harang has also struggled against the Cardinals, going 7-13 with a 4.37 ERA in 25 career starts. He's lost four decisions in six starts since he last beat them May 9, 2009.St. Louis shortstop Jhonny Peralta is 8 for 25 with two home runs off him.The Cardinals (16-16) haven't been a whole lot better than the Braves lately having dropped four of six, though they did avoid a sweep in Chicago Sunday with a 5-4 victory over the Cubs.They haven't won back-to-back contests in the 18-game stretch following a four-game winning streak April 12-15.Shelby Miller will try to change that and is also going for his third straight win, despite continued control issues. Miller (3-2, 3.15) has walked 21 in 34 1/3 innings with at least three in each start. Still, he's held opponents to four runs in his last four starts, going 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in that time.The right-hander allowed three runs on six hits while walking three in six innings of Wednesday's 9-3 win over Milwaukee."He hasn't had his best stuff," manager Mike Matheny told the team's official website. "I see a lot of things that are very positive with how he competes. … Shelby also has the ability to dominate if he can get everything locked in and fine-tune some of those things. It's one of the things he's going to have to clean up. And when he does, watch out."And Miller, who is 1-1 with a 2.13 ERA in two starts against Atlanta, can also consider himself on warning from Gonzalez's pent-up lineup."Somebody's going to have to pay for it," said Gonzalez, whose team has won five straight home games against St. Louis. "Sooner or later somebody's going to come in here and we're going to score 10 runs a game for two or three weeks."
The Braves are batting pitcher Aaron Harang 8th. It's the 6th time since 2012 the Braves have batted their starting pitcher 8th; only one other team has done it more than once (Rays 2).
Worth noting, Harang enters Monday hitless in his last 17 at-bats with 8 strikeouts.
Andrelton Simmons has slugged .708 in at-bats to end on a pitch in the upper third of the strike zone or higher, the 14th-best rate this season among qualifiers. Shelby Miller has thrown 39 percent of his pitches in that zone this season, the third-highest rate among qualifiers.