BALTIMORE (AP) — Cole Hamels finally got on the mound in an Atlanta uniform, allowing three runs to the Baltimore Orioles before reaching his predetermined pitch count in the fourth inning, and the Braves struggled offensively in a 5-1 loss Wednesday night.
Rookie Keegan Akin struck out nine over five scoreless innings to earn his first big league victory and help the Orioles win the deciding matchup of a three-game set against the NL East leaders.
The Braves got only six hits — all of them singles — and their lone run scored on a balk. Atlanta hasn’t won a series in Baltimore since 2004.
The 36-year-old Hamels signed a one-year contract with Atlanta in December and was expected to be a major contributor in the rotation. But he arrived at spring training with a sore shoulder and developed triceps tendinitis during summer camp before being placed on the 45-day injured list on the eve of the season opener.
Adding to Hamels’ frustration was that he had made at least 20 starts in each of his previous 14 seasons. And so, after enduring the long, unfamiliar process of rehabilitating a significant injury, Hamels came off the IL on Wednesday and finally got to work.
The four-time All Star gave up a first-inning single and retired the side in order in the second before running into trouble in the third. Austin Hays hit a leadoff double and Hamels got an 0-2 count on No. 9 hitter Andrew Velazquez before issuing a walk. Hanser Alberto followed with an RBI double, José Iglesias hit a run-scoring grounder and Ryan Mountcastle delivered a sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead.
After finally getting the third out, Hamels slumped his shoulders and took about 10 steps toward the dugout. He then spun around and walked back to the mound to pick up his rosin bag, a habit that probably will take some getting used to for a pitcher not yet accustomed to baseball’s new set of rules during the pandemic.
Hamels returned to get one out in the fourth before being removed after his 52nd pitch. Hours earlier, manager Brian Snitker said he would allow the left-hander to throw between 50-55 pitches.
It didn’t matter much that Hamels (0-1) looked rusty or took the loss. What counts is that he’s back in action for a team that expects to be playing well into October.
“He’s been through a lot since we started in February,” Snitker said before the game. “It will be nice to have him on our side.”
Akin (1-1) allowed three hits and a walk in his fourth career start. In his previous outing, the lefty didn’t make it out of the first inning of a 10-1 loss to the Yankees.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman drew a first-inning walk to extend his streak of reaching base to 32 games, the longest run in the majors this season and second-longest stretch of his career. In addition, Freeman has hit in 11 straight games and 29 of the last 30.
Braves: LH Max Fried (back spasms) will return from a short stint on the injured list Friday to start against the Mets. Fried (6-0, 1.98 ERA) said his back locked up during a start on Sept. 5. “I feel real good now. I’m ready to get back,” he said Wednesday. Snitker said Fried would have started the series finale against the Orioles if Hamels wasn’t already penciled in.
Orioles: Reliever Shawn Armstrong (back) is showing improvement, but it’s uncertain if the right-hander will recover in time to pitch again this season. “If he continues to progress and responds with his side work, then it’s possible,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “But I’m not entirely sure.”
Braves: After a day off Thursday, Atlanta begins its final road series with the first of three games against Mets.
Orioles: Dean Kremer (1-0, 1.64 ERA) makes his third major league start Thursday when AL East-leading Tampa Bay comes to town for a doubleheader. Hyde wasn’t sure whether Kremer would start the opener or nightcap, adding that the other game would be handled by a spot starter.
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