Braves haunted by dearth of shutdown innings

Club has struggled to prevent opponent from scoring after putting up multiple runs

Braves haunted by dearth of shutdown innings

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Though they attempted to alter the mood by blaring music in the clubhouse following Monday night's 6-4 loss to the Nationals, the Braves can't hide the frustration that has mounted as they have gone winless through this season's first six games.

"We're trying our darndest," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I went in [the clubhouse] today and told the guys to keep their heads up."

It's true, the Braves held a lead in the seventh inning or later in four of their first five games. During Monday night's loss, they tallied a pair of first-inning runs against Max Scherzer and then extended their alarming trend of killing momentum during the next half-inning.

The Braves have tallied five multi-run innings through these first six games. But they have also surrendered multiple runs during the half-inning that has followed three of these five occurrences.

Murphy's two-run homer

"You want shutdown [innings]," Gonzalez said. " You want to score a couple runs and then go back out there as the defensive team and shut the other team down. We're not there yet, but we're close."

After A.J. Pierzynski provided an early lead with his two-out, two-run double off Scherzer, Bud Norris allowed the Nationals to tally a three-run first inning that included 37 pitches and a Daniel Murphy two-run homer. Nick Markakis' two-run double in the second inning gave the Braves a 4-3 lead that vanished when Wilson Ramos moved toward the completion of four-hit night with RBI singles in the fifth and seventh innings.

"You're really trying to put up a zero every inning," Norris said. "Knowing that your offense gave you a couple and a little cushion should make it easier. But, it also makes it tougher. It's something you think about, but you've just got to go out there and make pitches."

Norris surrendered five runs and nine hits over five innings, and he was not nearly as sharp as he had been last week. He held the Nationals scoreless for six innings last Wednesday before enduring a three-run seventh inning that was marred by the shoddy defensive play that has also burdened the Braves through this season's early games.

But still, Norris was unable to take advantage of the fact that the Braves managed to tally four runs through the first two innings against Scherzer.

Atlanta's offense has remained rather silent during the late innings while the bullpen has taken its lumps. The Braves have batted .274 and tallied 17 of their 21 runs through the first four innings. They have batted .145 and totaled just four runs in the fifth inning or later.

"We score two off of Scherzer [in the first inning]," Gonzalez said. "If we go back out there and go one, two, three or put a couple frames together of one, two, three, and you know we're going to score a few more off [Scherzer], it sets a good tone for the rest of the game."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.