Braves drop bullpen game as Mariners hit it big late

AP photo by John Bazemore / Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker watches from the dugout during Saturday night's home game against the Seattle Mariners.

ATLANTA — After seeing the Atlanta Braves attack his fastball in the first inning, Logan Gilbert needed to change his strategy to keep his team in the game.

The right-hander's splitter saved the day.

Gilbert recovered from a rocky first inning to retire 15 consecutive hitters, Eugenio Suárez hit a two-run homer, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Braves 7-3 on Saturday night.

Gilbert (2-2) gave up three consecutive hits, including Matt Olson's two-run homer, to open the game. Gilbert gave credit to catcher Tom Murphy for helping him adjust his pitches "just based off the swings. They hit the fastball hard early. ... Murph did a good job recognizing that and setting up a new game plan from there."

He also issued his only walk in the first inning but didn't give up another hit until Austin Riley singled to right field with two outs in the sixth. Gilbert allowed two runs on four hits with nine strikeouts in six innings.

"They were really aggressive in the first inning," Seattle manager Scott Servais of the Braves, adding tht Gilbert made "an awesome adjustment after that."

J.P. Crawford had two hits, including an RBI single in the visitors' three-run fourth.

Olson's homer to center field drove in Ronald Acuña Jr., who led off the game with a single up the middle.

"Not really the start you're looking for," Gilbert said.

Placing more emphasis on his splitter, which at first looks like a fastball to hitters, Gilbert regrouped with a dominant stretch of five scoreless innings. The Seattle linup chipped away at Atlanta's collection of relievers who followed opener Jesse Chavez in the bullpen game. Taylor Trammell drove in a run with a single off Michael Tonkin (3-2) in the fourth.

Teoscar Hernández's single drove in Jarred Kelenic in the fifth for a 5-2 lead. Suárez, who drove in three runs on two hits, added his fifth homer of the season when he connected off Kirby Yates in the seventh to stretch the lead to five runs.

"It was awesome," Gilbert said of the Mariners' nine-hit attack. "It helps me out a ton after a rough first inning."

Olson leads the Braves with 13 homers this year, including blasts in each of the first two games of the series with Seattle.

Tonkin, Atlanta's second pitcher, allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks in two innings. The Braves committed three errors, including two by Acuña, one fielding and one throwing.

Jesse Chavez was effective as Atlanta's opener, allowing one hit in 2 1/3 scoreless innings, but the Braves fell to 0-3 in bullpen games.

Atlanta is attempting to compensate for a depleted rotation during the team's stretch of 13 consecutive games before its next off day on June 1. If the bullpen is stressed during that stretch, the Braves may have to make other roster moves to overcome the losses of left-handed starter Max Fried (strained left forearm) and right-handed starter Kyle Wright (right shoulder inflammation) to the injured list.

"It's going to be determined by the starts with the other guys," said manager Brian Snitker.

Fried is lifting weights two weeks after being placed on the injured list. There is no indication the update impacts initial projections that he is expected to miss about two months.

"He's going to be in great shape when he comes back," Snitker said.

Help could be coming soon from 20-year-old right-hander AJ Smith-Shawver, who allowed two runs on four hits in five innings in his debut with Triple-A Gwinnett on Friday. Smith-Shawver was a 2021 draft pick who signed with the Braves while turning down an opportunity to play quarterback for the Texas Tech football team.

"The kid's got a really good arm," Snitker said. "His stuff is real."

After splitting the first two games of the series, the Braves on Sunday will be looking for their first series win against the Mariners since 2011, when Atlanta swept three games in Seattle. The Mariners won two of three at home against the Braves last season.

Before this series, the Mariners had not played in Atlanta since 2017's debut of the Braves' new stadium, now named Truist Park.

Braves lefty Jared Shuster (0-2, 7.24 ERA) will look for his first win, while the Mariners will counter with righty George Kirby (5-2, 2.45).