Though it still is early in Spring Training, Thursday afternoon at CoolToday Park brought with it a bit more significance than most Spring Training games. Jack Flaherty and the St. Louis Cardinals arrived to face the Braves for the first time since Game five of the 2019 NLDS. While the memories of last year’s Game 5 are still fresh on the mind of many, the start of a new season hopefully will be the needed cure to have hope for a very talented Braves team.
Starting the day for the Braves was Felix Hernandez, making his second appearance for Atlanta after pitching two scoreless innings in the first game of the Spring. The Cardinals wasted little time getting to work. Though Hernandez got two quick outs, top prospect Dylan Carlson and Matt Weiters connected for back to back singles. Infielder Yairo Munoz delivered an RBI double to make the score 1-0 after the top of the first.
After Flaherty and Hernandez worked perfect half innings, the Braves got to work in the bottom of the second. Veterans Yonder Alonso and Tyler Flowers both shrewdly worked the counts to achieve free passes, and then Yangervis Solarte followed up with an RBI single to tie the game. At the end of two innings, both offenses had successfully manufactured runs against Flaherty and Hernandez.
In the third, both Hernandez and Flaherty would earn two more outs apiece and be replaced in the top and bottom of the inning, respectively. The highlight of the inning was Nick Markakis hitting a double off Flaherty for his first spring training hit of Spring Training. Though Marcell Ozuna followed up with a walk, the Braves could not capitalize, and the score remained tied after three innings.
Mark Melancon and Luke Jackson worked the fourth and fifth innings for the Braves. Though Melancon allowed a hit and Jackson surrendered two walks, neither allowed the Cardinals to cross the plate. After Dakota Hudson kept the Braves quiet in the fourth, Atlanta made sure to create some noise in the fifth. Back to back singles by Rafael Ortega and Ender Inciarte put runners on base for Dansby Swanson, who continued his torrid hitting against Cardinal pitching with an RBI double. 2019 first rounder Braden Shewmake followed up with an RBI Groundout. Though Trey Harris nor Yonder Alonso could get another run home, Atlanta was again able to take advantage of timely hitting, which resulted in a 3-1 lead.
Tucker Davidson took the mound in the top of the sixth, and worked around a Munoz single and steal plus another walk to keep St. Louis off the board. After Atlanta went in order in bottom of the sixth, Davidson generated a double play to earn the first two outs of the inning. Unfortunately, it would be his last out of the day, as he then allowed a single, walk, and hit batsman to Nolan Gorman, Austin Dean, and Oscar Hernandez, respectively, to load the bases. Davidson was replaced by Huascar Ynoa, who produced three swinging strikes to earn the strikeout and end the Cardinals’ rally in the top of the seventh inning.
After Atlanta once again went in order in the bottom of the seventh, Ynoa quickly got through the top of the eighth inning to complete a very productive relief outing. Peter O’Brien reached second after a single and an error in the bottom of the eighth inning, but the Braves could not drive him home to extend the lead. Jaseel De La Cruz entered the game for Atlanta in the top of the ninth inning, and after hitting a better, produced two groundouts, including a game ending double play off the bat of Gorman. The Braves would earn a win against St. Louis via a 3-1 score.
Beyond an encouraging outing from Hernandez, Atlanta featured several of their top prospects against the Cardinals. Both Ynoa and De La Cruz produced encouraging relief outings. Melancon and Jackson go the job done as well. Though they walked six batters, the Braves pitchers overall allowed just three hits and zero runs while striking out nine hitters over the final eight innings. Though the Braves position prospects struggled overall in their opportunities, Swanson delivered the decisive hit to continue his good start to the spring.
The Braves will look to continue their winning ways tomorrow, and will have two chances to do it. Atlanta will have split squad contests against the Yankees and Phillies, which will both start at 1:05 eastern on Friday.