Amid winless start, Braves seek positive signs

Amid winless start, Braves seek positive signs

WASHINGTON -- The Braves have beaten themselves with costly defensive mistakes and been challenged by an early schedule that has pitted their suspect offense against the talented pitching staffs of the Nationals and Cardinals.

In an effort to remain positive in the midst of a frustrating stretch, the Braves have pointed out how they've either had a lead or been tied in the seventh inning or later in five of their first nine games. But after being dominated by Stephen Strasburg and damaged yet again by Bryce Harper's power in Thursday's 6-2 loss to the Nationals, it was pretty tough to sugarcoat a 0-9 start.

"I've got to feel it's something like being in that 0-for-20 slump or something," Braves utility man Kelly Johnson said. "You want to get that one hit any way you can. If we got to win on a bases-loaded balk, I don't care. Let's just figure out something that we can do and celebrate."

The Braves and Twins gained a dubious distinction Thursday when they became the first teams to begin a season with nine straight losses since the 2003 Tigers, who finished 43-119. Now, the Braves can only hope that they don't reach 0-10 for the first time since 1988, when Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were getting their feet wet at the big league level.

Teheran fans six

"We just need to get out of that hole we're in right now," Braves right-hander Julio Teheran said. "I know we're all trying really hard."

A.J. Pierzynski mishandled a couple pivotal plays at the plate last week, and the bullpen's inefficiency has highlighted some of manager Fredi Gonzalez's late-inning decisions. But it's also impossible to overlook the fact that Freddie Freeman has just one hit over his past 31 plate appearances and Teheran has scuffled over his past two starts.

Teheran lasted just four innings against the Cardinals on Saturday and he followed that by seeing Thursday's seven-inning effort blemished by a Harper grand slam that could have been prevented had Teheran not walked Matt den Dekker to open the third. The Braves had gained a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning courtesy of a two-out RBI single notched by Nick Markakis, who has been a beacon of light during this dark stretch.

"We had some opportunities for some shutdown innings," Gonzalez said. "If you don't get those, you leave those good clubs hanging around."

Markakis' RBI double

The Braves opened the four-game series by tallying four runs through the first two innings against Max Scherzer. They ended it by scoring just three runs over the following 34 innings.

As the Braves dropped their first five game at home, they were frustrated by costly mistakes that turned the tide. This week's series at Nationals Park might have simply been a reminder that Atlanta is a rebuilding club that has played six of its first nine games against a Washington club that has legit World Series hopes.

Regardless of how one looks at this stretch, 0-9 is frustrating from all angles.

"[The Nationals] are a good team and that's what we're going to see this month," Johnson said. "We're going to see a lot of good teams. We're going to have to scrap, find things that work and just come together. That's really all you can do."

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