Dodgers overcome rough start from rookie Gavin Stone to beat Braves

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves used to have a bodysuit-and-goggles clad sprinter dubbed “The Freeze” spot a lucky fan a big headstart then race around the warning track at Truist Park to run him down.

With their starting pitching staggering as much as some of those overmatched fans, the Dodgers’ offense has been facing the same challenge nearly every night lately.

Freddie Freeman hit a three-run home run against his former team and J.D. Martinez had four hits, including two home runs, as the Dodgers absorbed yet another less-than-quality start to beat the Atlanta Braves, 8-6, on Monday night.

Over their past seven games, the Dodgers have scored 48 runs while crossing their fingers and hoping for five innings from a starting pitcher.

“I feel like right now, it’s just the way it is,” Martinez said. “It’s what good teams do. They find ways to win when one side struggles. I’m sure there’s gonna be a time – I hope not – but when the offense struggles and the pitching is going to be dominant and give us a chance to keep us in games. That’s just what good teams do.”

Making his second major-league start, rookie right-hander Gavin Stone got a rough welcome by the Braves. He faced nine hitters in the first inning, gave up four hits including a three-run home run by Eddie Rosario and walked two. Stone’s growing pains left the Dodgers wearing a 4-0 deficit.

“The first inning was rocky. They got some good swings on the ball,” Dodgers catcher Will Smith said. “I think he settled in after that. He found his groove, started making some pitches, started moving his fastball around a little better. His changeup was better, slider was a little better.

“I think he got punched in the mouth and he responded well. Got us three more good innings.”

Stone did look more like the well-regarded prospect he is over the next three innings, allowing just one more hit and a walk and getting double-play ground balls to erase both.

“(Dodgers pitching coach) Mark (Prior) came over after the first inning and just kind of settled me down a little bit,” Stone said. “It helped. It helped a lot.

“(Prior told me) Just stay confident, that my pitches are good enough to be here and just believe in myself. That was pretty much it. … I think it’s good for everybody to hear that once in awhile.”

Smith absorbed his own blow in the fourth inning when Braves DH Marcell Ozuna clubbed him in the head with a long, loopy backswing. Smith missed two weeks with a concussion earlier this season and let Ozuna know he wasn’t interested in getting another. That led to a confrontation near home plate after Ozuna’s flyout and again before his next at-bat.

“I was just mad. He hit me in the head with his bat pretty hard,” Smith said. “It’s not the first time he’s done it to me. He’s done it to other catchers around the league. I just felt like there comes a point where I need to say something there. In the moment, it kind of got a little heated. It’s something he’s not doing on purpose. But you do it enough times you’d think he’d fix it.”

The Dodgers started digging into the Braves’ headstart with a solo home run from Martinez in the second inning and scored twice in the fourth against Charlie Morton.

Freeman led off with a double (the first of his three hits), went to third on a flyout then scored on a ground out to first. With two outs, Martinez singled and scored on a triple by David Peralta to cut the margin to 4-3.

Braves fans greeted Freeman with another ovation before the first at-bat of his re-return to Atlanta. They were less fond of him after the fifth inning.

Miguel Rojas led off with a single, Mookie Betts walked and Freeman launched a 1-and-2 curveball from Morton high in the air and into the right field seats to give the Dodgers the lead.

“Just happy to get a hit with a guy in scoring position,” Freeman said. “Four curveballs in the at-bat, and luckily I was able to hit the fourth one.”

Stone “just ran out of gas” in the fifth inning, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. He started the inning with eight consecutive balls, walking Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson. Acuña went all the way to third base on Olson’s walk with Max Muncy reacting too late.

That was it for Stone. Roberts went to Evan Phillips in the high-leverage situation – the first of five relievers he used – and he escaped with the lead intact, stranding the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position with the help of outstanding defensive plays by Rojas and James Outman.

“It’s too early to say it was like a playoff game, but when we get together, you can see the way Brian (Snitker) managed, I managed. There was some urgency there,” Roberts said.

The Dodgers stretched the lead back out with an RBI single by Betts in the sixth and Martinez’s fourth hit and second home run of the game in the seventh.

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