The Braves squared off with the Colorado Rockies for the final game of the series, with their sights set on completing the season sweep. While the bats have continued to put up numbers, pitching has also been fantastic. After a Morton masterclass yesterday, Darius Vines will be making his MLB debut at Coors Field. While the Colorado lineup is in the bottom 10 for offensive output, Vines will have to manage the vast outfield and adjust his offspeed to break more in the altitude.
Colorado sent out Kyle Freeland, who, unlike most pitchers, is much better in pitching in Denver. Freeland typically gives up three to four runs a game, and tends to pitch for soft contact. The former first-round pick has struggled on the year, holding a 5.00 ERA and a 5-13 record.
There was not much action in the top of the first. Ronald Acuña Jr. started off with a line out before Ozzie Albies reached base on a swinging bunt. Not much would form as Austin Riley flew out, and then Matt Olson struck out on a borderline call.
To start the bottom of the first, Darius Vines looked extremely poised. Making his first start in a Braves uniform, he showed no fear of the strike zone, getting ahead in each count. His first out was on a Charlie Blackmon fly out to center, and nabbed his first strike out on Ryan McMahon. The bottom of the second would be very similar, going 1-2-3 and many aggressive pitches in the zone
The Braves would get on the board first in the third, as Kevin Pillar hit a 443-ft home run to deep center. The solo shot was Pillar's seventh on the season, and he continues to contribute when he finds his way into the lineup. Atlanta, now up 1-0, would cause no further damage as both Acuña and Michael Harris II grounded out before an Ozzie Albies fly out.
Vines allowed his first baserunner on a walk to Alan Trejo in a five-pitch at bat. On the next AB, with his second pickoff attempt, he threw a bullet to Olson, maybe an inch away from tagging out Trejo. He would eventually strike out Brenton Doyle, while Trejo stole second on a bang-bang play. Charlie Blackmon would come up, getting a pitch to the knee to crowd the bases at first and second. Right after, Ezequiel Tovar tied the game 1-1, on a single to center. While the Rockies were able to even the game, they could not take the lead as Vines struck out McMahon on three pitches.
The top of the fourth would start with an infield single from Riley. In what seemed to start a rally, Matt Olson let a ball get deep into the plate, driving a single to left center. To break the tie, Marcell Ozuna hit a double play ball to Tovar that was overthrown to second, bringing home Riley and moving Olson to third. Still no outs, Travis d'Arnaud hit a ground ball just soft enough to third to bring home Olson, making the game 3-1 Braves. Ozuna found his way to third on an Orlando Arcia ground out, yet the half-inning would come to an end with Pillar popping a ball to shallow left.
Vines returned to pitch out of some undeserved trouble in the bottom of the fourth. Nolan Jones hit an innocent pop-fly to deep right-center that was lost from both Acuña and Harris, eventually bouncing over the fence for a ground rule double. He would get out of the jam with a fielder's choice to Arcia, making a great play to get Jones at third, then striking out Tovar for his fourth K of the game.
The Braves added to their lead in the top of the sixth. The hottest hitter for Atlanta, Ozuna drilled a 440-ft solo bomb to deep left. The home run was his ninth in his last twenty-six games, making it his 30th of the year. After a d'Arnaud walk, Arcia made up for his error, hitting a 428-ft two-run shot, also to left field. Arcia's homer was the Braves 250th of the season, breaking the franchise record previously set in 2019. The score now 6-1; Pillar came to bat, hitting a single and ending Freeland's evening.
Evan Justice entered the game with one runner on base and two outs. Pillar would run toward second on a pickoff attempt and beat the wild throw to second for a stolen base. Michael Harris then bounced a ball off the plate, shooting it sky high and eventually bouncing off Justice's glove, scoring Pillar to make the score 7-1. The inning ended on a ground out from Acuña. Nevertheless, the Braves were able to capitalize on the Rockies' mistakes to give themselves a commanding lead.
Colorado's offense did bounce back in the bottom of the sixth. Vines struck out McMahon for his fifth of the evening. However, all-star catcher Elias Diaz single a soft shot to right field. Nolan Jones then drilled a line drive double to right field, putting runners on second and third. The Rockies made it 7-2 on a sacrifice fly from Hunter Goodman, before Toglia ended the inning with a soft ground out.
Vines ended his evening after going six complete innings. His family was interviewed after his finish, with some fantastic stories on his work ethic, and full of emotion. A three-sport athlete, Vine's mother emotionally commented on his goals and work ethic from a young age. His grandmother spoke on training with her from a young age, and developing a humble personality to stay successful.
Michael Tonkin relieved Vines in the bottom of the ninth, immediately giving up a solo homer to Trejo to deep center. While the Rockies inched closer, Tonkin shut down the next three batters, gathering two strikeouts and a ground out. The score now 7-3, Atlanta would go down in order on the top of the eight, bringing Colorado back to the plate.
Kirby Yates filled in the bottom of the eighth, giving up a lead-off walk. While Diaz hit into a fielder's choice, the strike zone started to get smaller, leading to another walk. Both runners would move up to second and third, before striking out Goodman two pitches later. Pulling himself together after the Kranitz mound visit, Yates escaped the inning unharmed with an inning-ending pop-fly to Acuña.
Acuña would grab a two-out hit in the top of the ninth, preventing himself from a hitless evening. Ozzie hit a solid single on a hanging backdoor slider to put runners at the corners. Atlanta, looking for some further insurance with two outs, was only a few feet away from adding to the lead. Austin Riley ended the inning, hitting a ball over 400 feet to dead center, just short of a three-run knock.
Rasiel Iglesias came in to close, starting with an easy infield fly to Olson for the first out. Keeping Olson busy, Harold Castro hit a grounder straight to the first baseman for second out. The game was kept alive on a four-pitch walk to Blackmon, but swiftly ended on a strikeout to complete the season sweep of the Rockies.
It was a fantastic debut performance for Darius Vines, and the Braves bats put together offense in various ways. In a challenging environment to debut, Vines showed resilience through weird bounces, limiting damage and keeping the game manageable. In six full innings, he never allowed the Rockies to threaten the lead, getting out of dangerous situations quickly. While he did not rely on his changeup early, he gradually increased his off-speed pitches to throw off Rockies hitters late.
Offensively, the Braves surpassed the franchise record for most home runs in a season. The record is truly impressive, as it is only the 132 games, with time to catch the MLB record of 307. The bats especially came to life in the sixth, scoring three runs with two outs. Overall, the Braves did what they were supposed to, gaining some wins before a tough Dodgers series in L.A.
Pitchers of Record
W: Darius Vines: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 82 NPIT
L: Kyle Freeland: : 5.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 93 NPIT
Kevin Pillar ( 7 )
Marcel Ozuna ( 30 )
Orlando Arcia (16 )
Michael Tonkin: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 17 NPIT
Kirby Yates: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 18 NPIT
Raisel Iglesias: 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 17 NPIT
August 31st at Los Angeles Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. EST on BSSE