Offense quiet as Padres drop finale
Richard exits early after allowing six runs in 2 1/3 innings
ATLANTA -- One night after pounding Braves pitching, the Padres found themselves at the wrong end of an offensive eruption.
The Braves scored nine times, including six off starter Clayton Richard, on their way to a 9-1 victory to avoid a three-game sweep. The Padres couldn't get anything going against Braves starter Javier Vazquez, who pitched seven scoreless innings against a lineup that pounded out 18 hits the night before.
Richard had a disastrous second inning, allowing five runs on six hits. All of the hits were singles, including an RBI single by Vazquez, as the Braves batted around and took a commanding early lead.
"It was a rough one," Richard said. "I missed with some pitches and they put the ball in play. For the most part, they were hits."
The Braves would chase Richard from the game after he got just one out in the third and surrendered another run on a single by Matt Diaz. Richard hurt his own cause when he misplayed a sacrifice bunt by Vazquez, allowing the Braves pitcher to reach again. As he tried to field Vazquez's bunt, Richard reached down with his bare hand but came up empty.
"I just rushed something I shouldn't have rushed," Richard said. "It was a mental mistake and the play needs to be made 10 times out of 10."
Padres manager Bud Black chalked up Richard's struggles to the continual development of a young pitcher. Since joining the Padres' rotation, Richard has delivered quality outings until Thursday.
"I don't think any starters want their outing to go that way," Black said. "It's part of a young pitcher going through some growing pains. Regardless of tonight, I'll take this guy."
Braves manager Bobby Cox agreed with Black's assessment, recognizing the promise that Richard has displayed.
"I had seen him when he was with Chicago," Cox said. "I've seen him when he was really good. He's had some great games. He hadn't had any games like he did tonight. I can see why they traded for him."
Richard chose not to use his youth as an excuse, saying Thursday's failure was simply the product of poor execution. It should be noted that several of the hits Richard allowed weren't hit all that hard, but happened to find holes between defenders. Of the 62 pitches Richard threw, 42 were strikes.
"I don't like to look at it like growing pains," Richard said. "I feel like everything was under my control. If I took care of business, we could have had a better outcome. I don't attribute too much of that to youth."
Richard's rocky start was uncharacteristic of his work since joining the Padres at the Trade Deadline. He gave up six earned runs just one other time this season, while he was still pitching for the White Sox. Richard also suffered his first loss since joining San Diego and his first loss since July 9.
Luis Perdomo relieved Richard and surrendered a run in 1 2/3 innings of work. Edward Mujica gave up a solo home run to Adam LaRoche and Ryan Webb allowed a run in the seventh to end the scoring for the Braves. LaRoche's homer was the Braves' only extra-base hit of the night.
Atlanta benefited from Richard's error in the third as well as an error by right fielder Will Venable that allowed a second run to score on Vazquez's RBI single. The defensive lapses were also uncharacteristic of normally proficient Padres defense.
"We have been sound defensively overall, especially this series," Black said. "I don't know if the ball was snaking on the grass out there on the ball to right field or if Will was looking up to see if he had a play at the plate."
Although the Padres committed two costly errors, they also supplied the defensive highlight of the night. With two outs and the bases loaded in the third, Chipper Jones launched a line drive to the gap in left-center. Tony Gwynn broke after the ball at a full sprint and made a spectacular diving play to rob Jones of extra bases and prevent at least two runs from scoring.
While the Braves had no trouble generating offense off Padres pitching, the Padres couldn't solve Vazquez. The Braves righty struck out six and scattered five hits in seven shutout innings. In two games against Vazquez this season, the Padres have managed just nine hits and two runs in 14 innings of work.
The Padres avoided the shutout when Venable hit a solo home run in the ninth inning off Braves reliever Buddy Carlyle.
Despite the ugly loss, the Padres enjoyed a successful series against the Braves by winning two out of three at Turner Field. They get another chance this weekend to cause trouble for a postseason contender when they open a three-game set with the Marlins.
Adam Rosenberg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.