ATLANTA — The day began with the Braves announcing that Adam Duvall was going on the 10-day injured list for a sprained left wrist, and things got progressively worse. Much, much worse.
The Braves’ Ian Anderson got knocked around for five runs in the first inning of a listless 9-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at sold-out Truist Park, and sustained a bigger loss off the field: Duvall will have season-ending surgery for a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, the team announced after Sunday’s game.
What was initially thought to be a sprain was far more serious. The loss of Duvall, who got hurt when he ran into the left-field wall while pursuing a Shohei Ohtani foul ball early in Saturday’s game, opens an obvious need for a right-handed hitting outfielder before the Aug. 2 trade deadline.
Duvall hit a modest .213 with 12 homers and a .677 OPS in 86 games this season but had a .308 average with four homers and a 1,101 OPS in his last 14 games.
He was looking a lot more like himself. And even when struggling, he represented a big potential power threat at all times and played strong defense, in addition to being one of the most popular and respected members of a team that stresses chemistry as much as any organization in pro sports does.
“That’s a tough loss, man,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “He’s such a big part of this clubhouse, especially on the field — he keeps everybody in great moods all the time. Obviously he’s a stellar baseball player, too. It’s a big loss.”
Braves outfielder Adam Duvall will have season-ending surgery on his left wrist this week, the team announced.
Duvall is hitting .213 with 12 home runs this season while platooning in left field with Eddie Rosario.https://t.co/HutOh6UqAG
— The Athletic MLB (@TheAthleticMLB) July 24, 2022
Braves ace Max Fried said, “Adam’s a huge guy for us. As far as being in the clubhouse, just a great teammate, the defense he brings, and the power that he can bring off the bench, or just at all times. To not have him around and playing, it’s going to be tough.”
Duvall had 38 home runs and a National League-leading 113 RBIs last season with Miami and Atlanta, including 16 homers and 45 RBIs in 55 games being reacquired by the Braves at the trade deadline. He added three homers and 10 RBIs in 12 games during the Braves’ NLCS and World Series championships.
His loss creates a significant void. As things currently stand, the Braves main left-field options include Eddie Rosario, batting .132 with a .393 OPS in 29 games, including 9-for-47 (.191) with two homers in 13 games since returning from the 60- day injured list following laser eye surgery; Guillermo Heredia, batting .127 with a .536 OPS in 63 at-bats, and Marcell Ozuna, who’s hit .219 with 18 homers and a .682 OPS, and whose left-field defense was so bad early on the Braves couldn’t wait to move him to full-time DH duties.
Infielder Orlando Arcia is another possibility. He has 16 starts in left field over two seasons including six this season.
The Braves initially acquired Duvall, 33, from Cincinnati at the 2018 trade deadline, and though he spent much of the 2019 season in Triple A, his 64 home runs and 165 RBIs in 823 at-bats for the Braves during the 2019-2021 seasons Worked out to an average of 42 homers and 110 RBIs per 162 games.
After turning down a $7 million option for 2023 and taking a $3 million buyout, Duvall was still under contractual control, a year from free agency. He got a one-year, $9,275,000 contract after losing his arbitration case.
He will be a free agent this fall, so there’s a distinct chance he’s played his final game for the Braves. That said, there is a strong mutual attraction between him and the Braves if the sides want to work out another deal.
Duvall was Atlanta’s starting center fielder this season before rookie sensation Michael Harris II was called up in late May, then he shifted to left field and was the everyday starter there until Rosario returned from the 60-day IL on July 4. At that point, Duvall and Rosario formed a left-field platoon, with Rosario still trying to work his way back to some semblance of his 2021 performance level.
The Braves got Rosario at last year’s trade deadline, along with Duvall and outfielder Jorge Soler — and that was after trading for yet another outfielder Joc Pederson two weeks earlier. Rosario came off the IL in late August to help the Braves clinch the NL East before he became a postseason hero, winning the NLCS MVP award after hitting .560 with three homers and nine RBIs in the series win against the Dodgers.
Even if the Braves believe Rosario can eventually return to something close to late-season 2021 form — so far, he hasn’t provided much reason for confidence along those lines — there still is likely a new urgency and top priority this week. The team needs another right-handed hitting outfielder who can provide quality at-bats, if not necessarily the power Duvall had.
The Braves are also believed to be pursuing at least one bullpen arm and possibly a back-of-the-rotation starter, particularly given the continued disappointing performance of Anderson, who has a 5.31 ERA after giving up eight hits, seven runs and three walks in just three innings Sunday, leaving after a walk and single to start the fourth.
Muller waiting in wings
Braves manager Brian Snitker said he believes in Anderson and wants to keep “riding him” until the right-hander gets things turned around. But Snitker also notes it’s not his call and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos is the ultimate decider on these matters.
Anderson’s 48 walks are the most in the NL, and his 5.31 ERA would be third-highest among major league starters if he wasn’t short of the qualifying standard. The fact that he has just 95 innings in 19 starts, two shy of the one-inning-per-team-game threshold to qualify, also says a lot about his performance this season.
Anderson’s 1.58 WHIP (walks-plus-hits per inning pitched) would be the second-worst in MLB, better than only Washington veteran Patrick Corbin’s 1.70 — again, if Anderson had two more innings to qualify.
This brings us to the best available option if the Braves don’t trade for a starter. It’s Kyle Muller, the towering lefty prospect who stumbled badly in a spot start this season — that was in front of family and friends in his native Texas against the Rangers — but has been terrific since early June at Triple-A Gwinnett.
In his past eight starts at Gwinnett, Muller has a 2.25 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and .202 opponents’ average with 61 strikeouts and nine walks in 52 IP, including seven quality starts. The walks total is particularly encouraging for the Braves, since control issues are the only thing that’s kept Muller in the minors this long.
His last start was July 14 because of the All-Star break. He leads the International League with 117 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings, and in his past two starts Muller has 15 strikeouts with no walks in 13 innings, including eight Ks in a seven-inning complete game (the opener of a doubleheader).
Series finale kryptonite
The Braves have a majors-best 35-12 record since June 1 and had pulled within a half-game of the NL East-leading Mets before Sunday’s loss to the Angels, who won for the first time since June 27 in a game in which Ohtani wasn’t the starting pitcher.
But as strong as the Braves have been for nearly two months, lately they’ve been inexplicably bad in series-finale games. They are 17-8 in their past 25 games, but 1-7 in series finales during that stretch. Their only series finale win in that period came in a July 8-10 sweep of the Nationals.
Conversely, their only loss in a non-series finale during that 25-game span was the July 11 opener of a three-game series against the Mets, also the lone series loss for the Braves in their past seven.
“I’m not going to apologize for not being perfect,” Snitker said after Sunday’s loss. “We won another series. This (game) wasn’t pretty, and the last one (before the All-Star break) at Washington wasn’t pretty. It happens. Like I said, I guess that’s what happens when you set the bar high.”
It’s probably no coincidence most of the recent series finales were day games. They’ve not been nearly as good in day games as at night.
The Braves are 43-21 in night games with a .260 batting average that ranks third in the majors and a .781 OPS that leads the NL and ranks third in the majors.
However, in day games, Atlanta is 15-18 with a .705 OPS that ranks 15th in the majors and a .226 batting average that only ranks them ahead of the Pirates, Angels, Diamondbacks and Athletics.
(Photo of Ian Anderson: Brett Davis / USA Today)