Had someone predicted that the Braves would open the season with four consecutive losses, that person probably wouldn’t have thought that Huascar Ynoa and Pablo Sandoval would be the guys who would create the team’s first winning streak.
The most productive day of what had been a frustrated season so far ended with Ynoa producing the best start of the year and Sean Newcomb looking like a potential end. In between, Sandoval drilled a two-out, two-run homer that gave the Braves a 2-0 victory over the Nationals in the second game of a doubleheader on Wednesday-afternoon at Nationals Park.
All games in doubleheaders are scheduled for seven innings again this year.
“This has been quite a painful week,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker. “We had only played four games, but it felt like we had two weeks under our belt. This is a really good way to end the road trip. “
After wasting the four home runs they hit against Max Scherzer on Tuesday, the Braves claimed a 7-6 victory in Wednesday’s first game, despite getting only two innings from Max Fried. The bait’s early exit taxed a bullpen willing to be stressed out in the nightcap.
But Ynoa cleared all ongoing concerns when he scored five strikeouts and gave up only two hits over a career-high of five scoreless innings. The 22-year old righthanded man made five starts last year, but had never pitched more than four innings. This start was only the second time he has ever completed more than three innings.
Ynoa’s four-seam fastball hit 99 mph and averaged 96 mph on the outing. His slider accounted for 50 percent of his 68 pitches and he got a whiff of 12 of the 23 swings that caused the pitch.
“I don’t know if he touched 98 in everything he did during Spring Training,” said Snitker. “The slider was really good. Which [pitch] was a major reason why he started. But yeah, that was pretty good there. “
Ynoa’s effort paid off when Dansby Swanson extended with two out of the seventh. Snitker responded by replacing rookie catcher Alex Jackson with Sandoval, who had hit a game-tying, two-run, pinch-hit homer during the opening day’s loss of 10 inning for the Phillies.
Sandoval worked out the count completely, then threw Tanner Rainey’s fastball over the fence in midfield. The two-run shot makes the 34-year-old veteran the first player in Braves history to account for all of his team’s runs via a pinch-hit homer twice in one season.
Less than two weeks ago, there was doubt whether Sandoval would earn a spot on Opening Day as a non-roster invitee. But so far, the 2012 World Series MVP proves that he can still be quite valuable.
“It was one of those times when you get goosebumps when you hit the ball,” said Sandoval. “You just have to keep working to do everything you can to get those opportunities.”