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Luiz Gohara gets mixed results in emotional first start

Luiz Gohara’s first start of the season was brief, but meaningful.

Gohara pitched four innings, allowing two runs, striking out six and walking four in a 4-0 road loss to the Phillies on Wednesday. He exited after 78 pitches.

“I felt pretty good since the first inning to the last inning,” he said. “Just competing and doing my best out there for the team and for the wins. It didn’t happen, but everybody worked really hard until the end.”

Gohara required 13 pitches to retire the Phillies in order to start the game. He allowed two to reach base in the second, but back-to-back strikeouts of Jorge Alfaro and Scott Kingery ended the threat.

His slider was forcing swings and misses early. Gohara was getting ahead in counts, relentlessly pounding the strike zone as he did during his five major-league starts last season.

“I thought he pitched really good,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “I don’t know how much he’d been pitching before he came up here, but the amount of pitches he threw tonight, stuff was good early on. Really didn’t have much hard contact. A lot of balls found holes and stuff.”

After getting two easy outs to start the third, Gohara walked Rhys Hoskins. Odubel Herrera hit a grounder to shortstop Dansby Swanson, who tried to tag Hoskins rather than throw to first.

The tag missed, keeping the inning alive for the Phillies. Gohara walked Aaron Altherr before Carlos Santana’s weakly hit dribbler down the third base line allowed Hoskins to score.

Gohara issued a one-out walk to Kingery in the following inning, which would come back to hurt him on Cesar Hernandez’s RBI single. He got Hoskins to fly out to complete his last inning of work.

“I thought he was OK,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I thought he ran out of gas there a little bit. Overall, I thought it was good. Kept them off balance. The velocity played up a little bit more, even this one. It was good to get him out there and extended like that.”

Gohara will travel to Brazil to visit his mother, who recently underwent heart surgey. He’ll be put on the bereavement list, and the Braves will be allowed to add a player from their 40-man roster to fill his spot. Gohara can spend between three-to-seven days on the list, per MLB rules.

It’s been a difficult six months for Gohara. His father died in his arms in December, and his mother has been ailing. 

To make matters worse, Gohara didn’t pitch in spring training, slowed by groin and ankle injuries. He didn’t return until late April, and rejoined the Braves on May 8.

He made three relief appearances before making his first start Wednesday.

“It’s a lot for a young guy. It’s a lot for any of us,” Snitker said. “He stayed focused, and since we’ve brought him up, he’s worked hard, he’s done well, his stuff’s getting better and it’s good.”

Gohara said his outing was emotional, but he stayed focused on the job at hand. He credited his teammates for being his support system through his struggles.

“They give me a lot of confidence to go out there and do my job, concentrate and do everything,” Gohara said. “So I really appreciate the guys who’re around me in the clubhouse, not just the clubhouse, but outside the field and stuff too.”

It’s unclear what fate awaits Gohara when he returns. Snitker said he wants to see him pitch again before making a decision.

The rotation is crowded, with Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Brandon McCarthy locked in. 

Mike Soroka is working his way back from the disabled list, and it appears unlikely the team will send him back to Triple-A. Veteran Anibal Sanchez also is progressing toward a return.

Injuries are inevitable, and eventually could plug Gohara back into the rotation. The Braves liked how he pitched out of the bullpen, and while he’s being developed as a starter, they could opt to continue using him in that capacity. 

The team could also send him to Triple-A Gwinnett to make routine starts. If nothing else, it’s a good problem for the Braves to have.  

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