ATLANTA -- Faced with the challenge of making his Major League debut against Max Scherzer on Thursday night at Turner Field, Manny Banuelos had no trouble maintaining his poise and showing why he was once one of baseball's top pitching prospects.
Everything seemed to be going better than Banuelos could have expected. But in the process of crafting an impressive debut that helped the Braves claim a 2-1 win over the Nationals, the 24-year-old left-hander was forced to make an unceremonious, sixth-inning exit because he started to be undone by cramps in his left calf and fingers.
"He locked up with one of the best pitchers in the game and matched him pitch for pitch," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It's just a shame that he had to come out of there with a cramp."
It was clearly apparent that something was wrong with Banuelos when he hit both Denard Span and Danny Espinosa with pitches with two outs in the sixth inning. Before this sequence, he had retired 13 consecutive batters and displayed rather impressive command with both his fastball and changeup.
After being briefly examined by assistant athletic trainer Jim Lovell, the rookie left-hander exited to the well-deserved ovation he received after recording seven strikeouts and limiting the Nationals to two hits over 5 2/3 scoreless innings. He exited with the satisfaction of owning a 1-0 lead over Scherzer, who has recently been described my many as the best pitcher on the planet.
"I was excited," Banuelos said. "There were a lot of emotions. I tried not to think too much or get nervous and just do my job."
When Banuelos makes his next scheduled start on Tuesday in Milwaukee, he will attempt to avoid the dehydration and cramping that bothered him at the end of this outing and during a recent one he completed for Triple-A Gwinnett. More importantly, he'll be hoping that his changeup will prove to be as effective as it was against the Nationals' lineup.
Banuelous was a power pitcher when he stood as one of the game's top prospects during his days in the Yankees' organization. But since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2012, he has encountered numerous obstacles and faced the challenge of reinventing himself as a pitcher. Now instead of overpowering hitters, he relies on a fastball that sits in the low 90s, the changeup and a curveball that was rather inconsistent on Thursday night.
"I feel like he had a really good changeup, and he really used that against all of our hitters tonight," Scherzer said. "I feel like that's what made him effective."
While the changeup was Banuelos' most effective pitch, he at least flashed the potential of his curveball when he got Bryce Harper to awkwardly swing and miss at two of them while striking out for the second time on the night during the fourth inning.
"I've been waiting for this moment for years and years," Banuelos said. "I got an injury and all of that, but thank God that I made it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.