ATLANTA - Sixto Sanchez's command was spotty, the balls he threw were being hit hard and his pitch count continued to rise.
Not the combination he was looking for in the first inning on Wednesday.
The Miami Marlins' top prospect needed 38 pitches to get out of the first inning, giving up three runs in the process, and only made it through three innings in his final scheduled start of the 2020 season.
The Braves went on to win, 9-4, thanks to a five-run fourth inning against reliever Josh A. Smith, and the Marlins saw another opportunity to advance their push for a playoff berth wither away.
The Marlins are now 28-28 and on a four-game losing streak with four games left in the 60-game season. They hold a half-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies for second place in the National League East, which guarantees a postseason berth in this year's expanded playoff field. Miami can still punch its ticket to the playoffs on its own by winning three of its final four games, which include their series finale against the Braves on Thursday and three games against the New York Yankees starting on Friday. Anything less, and the Marlins will need help.
Sanchez ultimately gave up four runs in his three innings while walking a career-high four batters and striking out two. Freddie Freeman's RBI double in the first scored Ronald Acuna Jr, who led off the frame with a walk. Ozzie Albies scored Freeman with an RBI single to center field and Adeiny Hechavarria scored Albies with his own RBI single to center. Hechavarria tacked on another run in the third with a bloop single to shallow right-center field that fell between Jon Berti, Lewis Brinson and Starling Marte.
Sanchez's ERA for the season jump from 1.69 to 3.47 after giving up nine earned runs in seven innings over his last two starts. Both of those starts came against teams he faced earlier in the year and showed marked improvement their second time around against him.
Sanchez held the Braves scoreless and to three hits over six innings when he first faced them on Sept. 8.
The Washington Nationals peppered Sanchez for five runs in four innings on Friday and being held to three runs when Sanchez first faced them on Aug. 22 in his MLB debut.
Sanchez' shaky first inning Wednesday erased Miami's production in the top half of the inning, when Jesus Aguilar and Brian Anderson hit back-to-back home runs off Max Fried, who was removed from the game after the first inning as a precaution after twisting his ankle fielding a Marte bunt.
The Marlins rallied in the top of the fourth with a Brinson RBI single and Berti RBI groundout to tie the game at 4-4 before turning to the bullpen.
The Braves quickly took the lead back for good. They scored five runs on five hits against Smith, with Dansby Swanson's three-run home run to center field capping the rally.
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