ATLANTA — Cole Hamels’ long-awaited first opening day start didn’t begin the way he had hoped.
Hamels gave up a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first inning and another homer to Dan Uggla in the second, and the Philadelphia Phillies never recovered Monday night as they fell to the Atlanta Braves 7-5.
“I put our team in a big hole to start the game off,” Hamels said. “I know we battled back, but when you have a hole that big, especially with the type of bullpen they have, it’s hard to get a win out of it.”
Justin Upton added a third homer off Hamels in the fifth inning. The Phillies couldn’t make up the deficit, even though Chase Utley drove in three runs with three hits, including a homer and a triple.
Hamels (0-1) gave up five runs on seven hits, including the three homers, with five strikeouts and one walk in five innings. The three homers allowed matched his high from last season.
“They’re going to hit a lot of home runs,” Hamels said. “Obviously, to keep them from hitting home runs you have to keep the ball down. I wasn’t able to do that.”
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said the left-hander had problems locating his fastball.
“He was definitely having trouble with his command,” Manuel said. “He was getting the ball in the big part of the plate. We had a hard time stopping them.”
Hamels said the excitement that comes with opening day may have affected his control.
“Opening day, you want to go out there and obviously win,” he said. “You have to control your emotions and try to throw strikes and execute. I wasn’t able to do that tonight.”
Freeman drove in three runs with three hits for Atlanta, which led National League teams with 49 homers in spring training.
Some observers have suggested the free-swinging Braves might lead the NL in strikeouts instead of home runs. Uggla said the positive results will make up for the whiffs.
“We’re not trying to hold back,” Uggla said. “If it costs some strikeouts in situations, then that’s what it’s going to take, because we have the power to go blow for blow with anybody.”
Freeman led the Braves with seven home runs in spring training. Hitting cleanup in Atlanta’s new-look lineup which includes outfielders Justin Upton and B.J. Upton, Freeman gave Atlanta the lead with his two-run homer into the Braves’ bullpen in the first inning. The two-out homer drove in Jason Heyward, who walked.
The power display was encouraging to Tim Hudson, even though he didn’t remain in the game long enough to earn the win.
“It’s going to be great to watch all year,” Hudson said. “I feel very happy with what we’re throwing out there one through nine. I’m excited to see what we’re going to do all year.”
Hudson gave up six hits and three runs in 4 1/3 innings. Hudson had a 4-0 lead before Utley led off the fourth with a homer and drove in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the fifth. Utley tripled in the seventh for his third hit and scored on Ryan Howard’s groundout.
Luis Avilan (1-0) took over for Hudson and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Craig Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth inning for the save.
The Braves brought out some of their past stars for pregame ceremonies. Dale Murphy was the honorary captain, newly retired Chipper Jones threw out the first pitch — firing a strike to Brian McCann — and Phil Niekro was handed a microphone and yelled “Play ball!”
Jones retired after last season, ending a career that lasted almost two decades – all with the Braves. “I’m missing it today, but I won’t miss it tomorrow,” Jones said as he sat in the Braves’ dugout before the game.
Upton’s homer came after Utley’s bases-loaded single off Hudson in the top of the fifth cut Atlanta’s lead to 4-3.