Braves’ 3 homers, bullpen help Yonny Chirinos in Atlanta debut as trade deadline nears

ATLANTA — If the work of Atlanta Braves starting pitchers Michael Soroka and newcomer Yonny Chirinos on Friday night indicated anything, it was that the Braves could probably stand to add another starting pitcher before Tuesday’s trade deadline.

Oh, and this: If they don’t add to the rotation, the Braves offense will be enough on many or most nights to overcome less-than-stellar starting pitching.

Soroka, optioned last week after the Braves claimed Chirinos off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays, started for Triple-A Gwinnett at Jacksonville and was charged with seven hits, five runs and one walk with five strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings, including two-run homers in the first and third innings.

In Atlanta, Chirinos didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in his Braves debut against the Milwaukee Brewers at sold-out Truist Park. But the Brewers didn’t hit a ball harder than 97 mph against the right-hander, and the Braves made sure their new teammate didn’t suffer a proverbial death by a thousand paper cuts.

After Chirinos left with two runners in scoring position and two out in the fourth inning with the Braves trailing 4-3, reliever Collin McHugh struck out Christian Yelich, then the Braves offense did what it’s done so many times this season — came from behind and won, 10-7.

It was only the fourth win in 11 games for the Braves, who had followed up a modern-era franchise-best 33-game stretch (28-5) with a season-worst 10-game stretch including being swept in two games at Boston before a day off Thursday. They still have the majors’ best record (65-36) and a 10-game NL East lead that’s three times larger than any other in the majors.

If Braves GM and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t add a starter, more bullpen help or another bat before Tuesday’s trade deadline, Atlanta players don’t sound as if they’ll be stressed about it.

“I think Alex will do as he pleases there, and everybody’s got faith in what he wants to do or not do,” said Braves first baseman Matt Olson, who hit his National League-leading 33rd home run and raised his league-leading RBI total to 82. “We’ve got a great team in that clubhouse right now, but if something comes around, I’m sure Alex has our best interests in mind.”

They’ve won three of four against Milwaukee in the past eight days, and the Braves have two more against them this weekend before Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels come to town for a three-game series that starts Monday.

Marcell Ozuna and Austin Riley also hit home runs for the Braves, with Riley and Olson doing it consecutively to start the four-run seventh inning that opened a 10-4 lead. It was the 11th set of back-to-back jacks for the Braves and gave Riley seven homers and 17 RBIs in the last nine games.

Ozuna, mired in a 4-for-49 skid and coming off a 1-for-19 road trip, had two hits including a score-tying homer in the fourth inning, his 19th but only his third in 23 games. Slumping left fielder Eddie Rosario also had a double and two-run single.

“We need those guys,” Snitker said. “They’ve been struggling a little bit, so it’s good to see them both kind of come out today.”

The Braves took the lead for good with two runs in the fifth on an Ozzie Albies RBI single and Olson’s sacrifice fly, after Ronald Acuña Jr. led off the inning with a single and collected his majors-leading 49th stolen base.

Chirinos, who had a 4.02 ERA in 15 games including four starts for the Rays, was charged with six hits, four runs and one walk with three strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings, and fired 39 strikes in 61 pitches. Though the pitching line was underwhelming, it was worth noting that all of the hits against him had exit velocities of 95 mph or below, with three lower than 80 mph.

“He threw it over (the plate),” Snitker said. “I was kind of hoping we’d get four innings out of him, really. He hadn’t pitched in a while. He’s not a strikeout guy, he’s a contact guy. It was OK.”

At the other end of the exit-velocity spectrum is where the Braves have operated all season. Atlanta hitters had eight of the 10 highest exit velocities in Friday’s game, all 101.9 mph or above including Acuña’s 110.8 mph sizzler of a single that started the fifth inning.

One of the more startling stats of this Braves season: Before Friday, Atlanta hitters put 143 balls in play at 110 mph or higher this season, nearly twice as many as the next-highest team total, the Angels’ 72. Acuña alone had 44, surpassing the totals of 19 major league teams.

Before the big bats took over for the Braves, eyes were focused on Chirinos, since his arrival was the impetus for sending down Soroka — which didn’t sit well with some fans, who believed the popular pitcher had made some strides in recent starts. But Soroka can be optioned, and the Braves took advantage of a low-cost move in claiming Chirinos, 29, to see how he might fare with a change of scenery after spending all of his five-year career with Tampa Bay.

Chirinos threw three pitches — sinker, slider, splitter — with everything in the range of 81.9 and 94.8 mph. There were many swings — 30 in 61 pitches — and 10 whiffs, including five apiece against his sinker (29 pitches, 15 swings) and splitter (22 pitches, 12 swings).

“He’s a sinkerballer; he’s getting a ton of groundballs,” Olson said. “A couple of them got through. I’ve faced him before, he’s got a ton of movement on his pitches. He’s a big dude, so it feels like he’s letting go of it right on top of you. It’s kind of like he’s throwing a bowling ball up there, just one of those guys that it’s heavy. Like I said, he got a lot of groundballs today, which is his game.”

And just one more thing, about that Tuesday trade deadline, Matt …

“If this is our team, I think we have great confidence in the team we’ve got,” Olson said. “That’s way past my job title, adding and subtracting guys. We’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys. I’m positive if Alex were to do something to benefit the team, we have full confidence in that, too.

“We’ve got full confidence in (Anthopoulos). Ever since I’ve been over here, you can tell he cares a lot about putting a good team together, and he cares a lot about putting good guys in the clubhouse together, which might be more important. It feels like he knows when to make the right moves at the right time, and it’s a good feeling.”

(Photo: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

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