By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO — Gotta start somewhere, right?
Ok, the first inning: the Giants have failed to start ballgames with any force, now a season-long theme. And the Braves’ Ronald Acuna is fast becoming a leadoff hitting, first inning sensation.
Both trends were at work on Monday with the Braves powering past the Giants 4-1 at Oracle Park in the opener of a four-game series.
Acuna greeted Andrew Suarez in his season debut with a leadoff homer–the first of two on the evening for the Braves’ young star–and Mike Soroka mowed down Giants’ hitters for eight innings in the visitors’ eighth win in their last 10 games.
The Giants first of two hits on the evening didn’t transpire until the sixth, when Brandon Crawford homered off Soroka. They’ve been outscored 47-7 in the first inning in 2019, and Giants’ opponents are hitting a robust .304 in the frame.
Acuna doesn’t need a particular spot in the batting order to be productive. The 21-year old Venezuelan has his career on a superstar track with 37 home runs and 95 RBI in his first 168 games. But he prefers leadoff, and it shows. He’s hit .400 batting leadoff in the 10 games of the Braves’ current streak, and he’s started each of the last two with homers.
“It changes the way you play for the rest of the game,” Acuna said, sounding poetic through the translation of Franco Garcia. “Because the adrenaline kicks in.”
“He’s a different guy there. We tried (having Acuna bat cleanup), and I think it probably would’ve worked, but there’s just something about that spot that he comes alive,” said Braves’ manager Brian Snitker.
Acuna doubled down in the seventh with a solo shot off Nick Vincent. 22-year old Austin Riley homered in the sixth off Suarez, the third home run in Riley’s first six games as a major leaguer.
Suarez pitched well, allowing three runs in six innings, striking out five and walking four. But as manager Bruce Bochy noted, the home runs were the difference in winning or losing.
“He lost Markakis and then had the next hitter (Riley) 0-2 and just hung a breaking ball. He gave us a chance to win the game, but offensively, we just got completely shut down,” Bochy said.
Soroka cruised, retiring the first 15 batters he faced. The 21-year old Alabaman is 5-1 in seven starts after striking out seven, walking none in eight innings of work. He covered the stint in 94 pitches, starting 18 of 26 batters he faced with strikes.
Soroka’s yet to allow more than a run in any of his seven starts. Crawford’s home run cost him statistically: he saw his ERA soar to 1.01.
“He’s one of those guys, you don’t know if he’s five up, five down or what the score is,” Snitker said. “He just keeps pitching and making pitches.”
Shaun Anderson makes his second start on Tuesday. He’ll be opposed by Atlanta’s Julio Teheran in the 6:45 pm start.