The Atlanta Braves head into Sunday’s series finale against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays with one obvious point after the last few nights of working the phones: They are not giving up in their quest for their fourth straight National League East title.
After falling two games under .500 following Friday night’s 7-6 defeat to the Rays in 10 innings, Atlanta’s president of baseball operations, Alex Anthopoulos, made his second move in as many days by shoring up his catching position.
With starter Travis d’Arnaud (thumb injury) still a few weeks away from returning, the organization acquired Stephen Vogt from the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor-league first baseman Mason Berne early Saturday morning.
Vogt, 36, will join Kevan Smith — both formerly Rays backstops — to form the Braves’ new catching tandem while the club awaits the return of d’Arnaud.
Vogt is batting .212 with five homers and a .693 OPS in 52 games for the Diamondbacks this season. Smith, 33, is batting .206 in 24 games – 21 for Atlanta, three for Tampa Bay.
All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman said he liked that Anthopoulos still had faith in the Braves to make a push despite a tough road ahead.
Atlanta is one series into a stretch of 18 straight games against teams with non-losing records — Tampa Bay, San Diego, Philadelphia, the New York Mets and Milwaukee.
“It’s nice to have Alex show we’re still going for it,” said Freeman, who is 6-for-8 with two homers and four RBIs in the series.
The Braves, who walloped the Rays 9-0 on Saturday night, will turn to their hottest pitcher in the finale.
Left-hander Drew Smyly (7-3, 4.48 ERA) has won his last five starts dating to June 13 and seven of his last eight decisions overall.
In six career outings (three starts) against Tampa Bay, Smyly is 1-1 with a 4.96 ERA. Rays batters have hit .238 against the Arkansas native.
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash will give the ball to veteran lefty Rich Hill (6-4, 3.74) to close the three-game series in Atlanta.
Hill, 41, will look to return to form after losing in his previous start, a 3-1 home loss to the Toronto Blue Jays last Sunday. He allowed three runs on four hits over five innings, including a home run to Toronto catcher Danny Jansen.
Since throwing five shutout innings against the Texas Rangers in a 3-0 win on June 5 , Hill has posted a 1-2 record and allowed 17 earned runs in 29 1/3 innings – a 5.22 ERA over six starts that belies the strong season he has crafted.
A constant concern for Hill has been perhaps tipping his pitches.
“I guess if he gets a bunch of outs, then he’s not tipping his pitches,” Cash said ahead of Hill’s last start. “It has become consuming, not with us, with just the league, about pitch-tipping. We still have to appreciate what hitters are doing even if they are picking something up.”
Hill owns a 5-0 record with a 1.74 ERA in nine career appearances (seven starts) vs. Atlanta.
–Field Level Media