PHOENIX - This was meant to be Odalis Perez's coming-of-age celebration.
But for the next four days, the grumbling about his latest ineffective outing will drown out any happy thoughts the Braves have concerning a lineup that's offering a lifeline to the pitchers, at last.
The Arizona Diamondbacks jolted Perez with four runs in a span of nine batters Sunday night to overtake the Braves, 7-5, at Bank One Ballpark and hand Atlanta its first losing April (12-14) since 1993.
The Braves split the series with the Diamondbacks and finished the three-city, 10-game swing through three time zones with a 4-6 mark.
"He's got the stuff to do it, he just didn't get it done," manager Bobby Cox said of Perez, whose record fell to 1-4. "He didn't pitch good."
The slump Perez had vowed to break is still firmly rooted. He lasted just 3â innings and gave up seven hits, including Jay Bell's two-run home run in the third, and four runs.
Perez has not completed four innings in his last two starts and has allowed 11 runs, boosting his earned run average as a starter to 7.27. He failed to hold an early 3-0 advantage, walked one and did not record a strikeout.
Perez, who figured he'd lose lose his spot in the rotation with a bad outing, may give way to Damian Moss. Or he might be shipped to Class AAA Richmond to get some work in and restore his confidence.
"I don't want to be here and the players look at me and say he sucks, when are we going to get a win from this guy?" said Perez, who retired just nine of the 17 hitters he faced. "It's so frustrating. Nothing happened and I gave up four runs.
"I should be in the game still, I was feeling good. I don't really know what's going on. I have no words to describe it."
The Braves hit .228 and scored six runs in losing three straight in Philadelphia to start the trip. But in the last seven games in Houston and Phoenix, the offense averaged seven runs a game, banging out 67 hits and scoring 49 runs.
Brian Jordan, who tripled to left-center against Diamondbacks starter Miguel Batista to get the Braves on the board in the first, followed Chipper Jones' single in the third with a home run to right-center, a drive estimated at 394 feet, to make it 3-0.
Following Jordan's home run, the Braves didn't advance another runner beyond first base until the ninth. Batista lasted just four innings, then five relievers combined to give up three hits over the final five innings.
The Braves had a chance to tie the game in the ninth, scoring two runs on pinch hitter B.J. Surhoff's single against reliever Troy Brohawn. But Rafael Furcal, who was 2 for 13 in the last three games of the series, rolled into a game-ending double play.
"We could have won it real easy," Cox said.
Perez wiped out the Braves' 3-0 lead within two innings. With two outs in the third, he booted Steve Finley's tapper in front of the mound, then Bell launched a 3 and 1 delivery into the left field stands. Luis Gonzalez followed with a double, and Matt Williams delivered a single to center to tie the game at 3 all.
"Perez is having a tough time making an adjustment down in the zone when he has to," pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. "You can see one or two pitches getting away at times, but not five or six in a row. You have to be able to make those adjustments as a major league pitcher. We'll keep working at it and try and get it right."
The Diamondbacks chased Perez in the fourth. Reggie Sanders ripped a double against the right-center field wall and following Craig Counsell's bunt, Perez walked Damian Miller. Jason Marquis, Perez's successor, coaxed a sacrifice fly from pinch hitter Erubiel Durazo to make it 4-3, then induced Finley's inning-ending ground ball.
In the sixth, Mark Grace ripped a home run into the Braves bullpen in right field, then Gonzalez followed a two-out walk to Bell in the seventh with a triple against reliever Jose Cabrera to make it 6-3.
So, it's back home and a day off to regroup, for a stumbling team and a struggling pitcher.
Reach Bill Zack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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