The Atlanta Braves scored six runs on 12 hits Friday night and shut out the New York Mets. The big story, however, had nothing to do with the Braves’ bats.
On the way to lowering his ERA to 0.70 and improving his record to 3-1, Aaron Harang pitched seven innings of no-hit baseball. But rough innings in the sixth and seventh and an elevated pitch count forced manager Fredi Gonzalez to pull his starter with two innings to play.
"I want him pitching 27 more times," Gonzalez said about his decision to save Harang's arm and not let him go back out in the eighth inning. "If it was the ninth inning, yeah maybe, I'd think about it a little bit. He's a 35-year-old right hander [and] was at 121 pitches, we had no chance. I told him to blame me."
Harang threw 121 pitches through seven innings and struck out five batters along the way. But he walked six batters, and more to the point, two walks plagued Harang in the sixth and two more in the seventh as he faced 10 Mets batters and threw 49 pitches in his final two innings on the mound.
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Also factor in a lengthy wait in the eighth inning while Braves hitters belted five hits and scored four runs. Eight hitters came to the plate for Atlanta in the eighth. Harang had to sit through that, two mound visits and a pitching change and then watch Tyler Pastornicky pinch hit for him, ending his night.
With two outs in the eighth, David Wright singled off reliever Luis Avilan to break up what would have been a combined no hitter. That’s the only hit the Mets could muster on the night off Harang’s seven no-hit innings, Avilan’s one inning of work and Jordan Walden’s perfect ninth inning.
Chris Johnson doubled to left field to drive in Atlanta’s first run of the game in the second inning. Then Freddie Freeman started off the four-run eighth with a two-run blast. Dan Uggla and Jordan Schafer each doubled later that inning to drive in runs.
No-hit bids are nothing new to Harang this season. In his first outing on April 2 against the Milwaukee Brewers, Harang threw six innings of no-hit baseball before a Logan Schafer single marred Harang’s Braves’ debut.
The decision to remove Harang from the game wasn’t popular among fans on Twitter, but Gonzalez said Harang understood the thinking behind the move.
"I'm pulling for him. I wanted to see him throw a no-hitter," said Gonzalez. But I think it gets to the point where you've got to worry about 25 more starts, you've got to worry about his longevity. I think we made the right decision."
Since spring training started, the Braves have lost three pitchers to arm injuries. Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen and Cory Gearrin have all sustained injures that have required Tommy John surgery. In fact, Harang was signed to this roster on March 24 because the Braves had to scramble due to all the injuries, and Harang had just been released by the Cleveland Indians.
It’s easy to see why Gonzalez decided to pull Harang when he did. Keeping Harang healthy is more important than a no hitter.