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Braves' wild-card lead down to 1.5 games

Braves pitcher Derek Lowe hands the ball to manager Fredi Gonzalez as he is relieved taken out of Wednesday’s game.

Braves pitcher Derek Lowe hands the ball to manager Fredi Gonzalez as he is relieved taken out of Wednesday’s game.

MIAMI -- Chipper Jones hurried back from Atlanta after attending to a family matter, arrived at the stadium in the second inning and came off the bench as a pinch-hitter in the eighth, hoping to rally the Braves in their struggle to secure a postseason berth.

He grounded out.

Lately the script hasn't been going Atlanta's way.

With their NL wild-card lead dwindling, the Braves mustered only two hits against former teammate Javier Vazquez and lost Wednesday to the Florida Marlins, 4-0.

Atlanta's lead the NL wild-card race shrank when St. Louis beat the New York Mets 6-5 to close to within 1½ games. The Cardinals were 10½ back on Aug. 25, but the Braves have lost 13 of their past 20 games.

"I'm still optimistic that this club has enough in the tank to get it done," Jones said. "We've still got everybody in the rearview mirror. We've just got to go take care of business."

Six games remain in the Braves' regular season. They're off Thursday, then begin a three-game series at Washington.

"Maybe it's good to have a day off," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "You come out of this stuff and become a better club when you get through it."

Jones made a brief trip home to be with his 7-year-old son, who underwent sinus surgery. He watched from the bench as Vazquez (12-11) extended his streak of scoreless innings to 25, a Marlins record for a starter.

After Vazquez pitched seven innings, Jones — now 0 for 10 this year as a pinch-hitter — grounded out during a 1-2-3 eighth. Leo Nunez walked two in the ninth before retiring Jason Heyward to complete a two-hitter.

It was the ninth time the Braves have been shut out.

Derek Lowe (9-16) improved from recent outings but lost his fourth start in a row — a bad streak at a bad time for the Braves.

"We made it definitely kind of tough on ourselves," Lowe said. "But we're still going to have the lead going into Friday night. We've got to realize if we keep winning, we're going to make it. As bad as it stinks right now, you still have control over what's going to happen."

The Braves trailed Florida 3-0 before mustering their best threat in the seventh. Brian McCann led off with a walk and took third on a two-out double by Heyward, but Jack Wilson flied out to end the inning.

Vazquez retired the first 10 batters before Martin Prado singled in the fourth. McCann was then hit by a pitch, but Vazquez escaped by retiring Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman.

The game was the last for Atlanta on the field where the Marlins have played since their first season in 1993. The teams went 75-75 in the stadium.

The Marlins took the three-game series despite going 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position. The lone hit was an RBI double by Gaby Sanchez in the second inning.

Brett Hayes hit his fifth homer leading off the fifth, and Logan Morrison added his 22nd in the eighth.

Lowe allowed three runs in 6 1-3 innings.

"He was really good," Gonzalez said. "That was one of the better outings he has had. But shoot, going against Vazquez, he needed to be great."

Vazquez pitched for the Braves in 2009 and hadn't faced them since 2005. He struck out six and walked one.

The 35-year-old right-hander has won his past five starts while allowing one earned run in 36 innings, an ERA of 0.25. It has been a remarkable turnaround for Vazquez, who had the highest ERA in the majors at 7.09 in mid-June.

He has at least 10 victories each of the past 12 years but has said he may retire after this season.

"It's got nothing to do with whether I'm pitching good or bad. That's not my thinking," Vazquez said. "I'm just trying to do my best out there until my final start."

Notes: Atlanta SS Alex Gonzalez (strained right calf) didn't play but said he hopes to rejoin the lineup Friday. ... Braves RHP Tim Hudson, scheduled to start Friday at Washington, is 13-3 in 22 starts against the Nationals with an ERA of 1.95. ... RHP Jair Jurrjens (right knee) said he felt good after throwing 50 pitches in a bullpen session Wednesday. He might be available for the second round of the playoffs if the Braves advance that far. ... Florida RHP Chris Volstad, scheduled to start Friday at Milwaukee, is 0-2 over his past five starts despite an ERA of 2.97. ... The previous Marlins record for consecutive scoreless innings by a starter was held by RHP Pat Rapp, who threw 24 2-3 in 1995.

Comments

Somebody 2 years, 6 months ago

The Braves will probably be 1 1/2 out of the wild card race by the weekend.

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