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Jack Flaherty insists he didn’t hit Ronald Acuña Jr. on purpose

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Things got a little bit snippy between the Braves and Cardinals during the NLDS. In Game 1, Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a two-run homer off of Carlos Martínez in the ninth inning, helping close what was a four-run deficit. An exited Acuña who, earlier in the game did not run hard out of the box on what turned into a long single that he thought had home run distance, gesticulated wildly towards his dugout as he rounded the bases. After the game, Martínez said of Acuña, “I wanted him to respect the game and respect me as a veteran player.”

Things were civil between the two sides in Games 2, 3, and 4. In Game 5, the Cardinals hung a 10-spot in the top of the first inning, giving Jack Flaherty a virtually insurmountable cushion before he ever took the mound. Flaherty threw a great game, holding the Braves to one run across six innings. He made only two mistakes: allowing a solo home run to Josh Donaldson in the fourth inning, and hitting Acuña with a fastball in the fifth. Acuña wasn’t happy about it, understandably. Warnings were issued to both sides and the game went on without any further incident?

It’s tough to say, as an outsider, if Flaherty clearly intended to hit Acuña. Flaherty was ahead 1-2. Catcher Yadier Molina set up inside and Flaherty missed his spot by a lot. It doesn’t seem like the most obvious spot to hit Acuña. Others would say that provided the necessary subterfuge for plausible deniability, plus the Cardinals had almost no risk in giving Acuña a free base.

After the game Flaherty denied hitting Acuña on purpose, but also inadvertently tipped his hand. Per Jeff Jones, Flaherty said:

We were trying to go in. WE’ve got two strikes on him, we were trying to go in. If we’re gonna go in, we’re gonna go in tight. It hit him. He took exception to it. That’s the guy he wants to be. That’s how it is. He’s been having all his antics all series. The guy hits a ball off the wall, he gets a single out of it. So he wants to take exception to it, he can do whatever he wants. He can talk all he wants. But we tried to go in, we talk, our scouting report is go in, we go in. So it got away, it hit him. He wants to take exception to it, he can do whatever he wants.

That Flaherty pointed to Acuña’s “antics,” even while denying intent, points to intent.

Furthermore, manager Mike Shildt used Acuña’s behavior in his postgame rallying speech to his team. Bench player Randy Arozarena live streamed the speech, which probably won’t sit well with anyone with the Cardinals. STL Sports Central has the video in which Shildt says, “The [Braves] started some [stuff]. We finished the [stuff]. And that’s how we roll. No one [messes] with us ever. Now, I don’t give a [hoot] who we play. We’re gonna [mess] them up. We’re gonna take it right to them the whole [freaking] way. We’re gonna kick their [freaking] [butt].”

Acuña’s behavior was clearly on the Cardinals’ mind all series long. Given his postgame denial and Shildt’s speech, the claim there was no intent behind Flaherty’s pitch looks spurious at best.

Cole Hamels done for year after just 1 start for Braves

Cole Hamels triceps injury
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ATLANTA — After making just one start for the Atlanta Braves, Cole Hamels is done for the season.

Hamels reported shortly before the start of a four-game series against the Miami Marlins that he didn’t feel like he could get anything on the ball. The left-hander was scheduled to make his second start Tuesday after struggling throughout the year to overcome shoulder and triceps issues.

The Braves placed Hamels on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Sept. 18,, but that was a mere formality. General manager Alex Anthopoulos already contacted Major League Baseball about replacing Hamels in the team’s postseason player pool.

“Cole knows himself and his body,” Anthopoulos said. “You trust the player at that point when he says he can’t go.”

The Braves began Monday with a three-game lead in the NL East .and primed for their third straight division title.

Even with that success, Atlanta has struggled throughout the shortened 60-game series to put together a consistent rotation beyond Cy Young contender Max Fried and rookie Ian Anderson.

Expected ace Mike Soroka went down with a season-ending injury, former All-Star Mike Foltynewicz was demoted after just one start, and Sean Newcomb also was sent to the alternate training site after getting hammered in his four starts.

The Braves have used 12 starters this season.

Anthopoulos had hoped to land another top starter at the trade deadline but the only deal he was able to make was acquiring journeyman Tommy Milone from the Orioles. He’s on the injured list after getting hammered in three starts for the Braves, giving up 22 hits and 16 runs in just 9 2/3 innings.

“There’s no doubt that our starting pitching has not performed to the level we wanted it to or expected it to,” Anthopoulos said. “I know that each year you never have all parts of your club firing. That’s why depth is so important.”

Hamels, who signed an $18 million, one-year contract last December, reported for spring training with a sore shoulder stemming from an offseason workout.

When camps were shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Hamels was able to take a more cautious approach to his rehabilitation. But a triceps issue sidelined again before the delayed start of the season in July.

The Braves hoped Hamels would return in time to provide a boost for the playoffs. He also was scheduled to start the final game of the regular season Sunday, putting him in position to join the postseason rotation behind Fried and Anderson.

Now, Hamels is done for the year, his Braves’ career possibly ending after he made that one appearance last week in Baltimore. He went 3 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on three hits, with two strikeouts and one walk in a loss to the Orioles.

Hamels reported no problems immediately after his start, but he didn’t feel right after a bullpen session a couple of days ago.

“You’re not going to try to talk the player into it,” Anthopoulos said. “When he says he isn’t right, that’s all we need to hear.”

Atlanta recalled right-hander Bryse Wilson to replace Hamels on the 28-man roster. The Braves did not immediately name a starter for Tuesday’s game.

With Hamels out, the Braves will apparently go with Fried (7-0, 1.96), Anderson (3-1, 2.36) and Kyle Wright (2-4, 5.74) as their top three postseason starters.

Hamels is a four-time All-Star with a career record of 163-122. He starred on Philadelphia’s World Series-winning team in 2008 and also pitched for Texas and the Chicago Cubs.

Last season, Hamels went 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 27 starts for the Cubs.