The Launching Pad has been reborn, much to the dismay of R.A. Dickey and other Atlanta Braves pitchers.
The Braves’ most recent homestand provided more evidence that new SunTrust Park is a great place to play — if you’re a hitter.
Sure, the season is still young, but Dickey says “It’s a fact that the ball seems to be carrying here so far.”
The ball seems to be carrying especially well for Braves’ opposing hitters.
Atlanta’s 5.61 ERA in home games is easily the worst in the majors. Colorado’s Coors Field has been known as the toughest park for pitchers, but Rockies pitchers are a distant runner-up at 5.31.
It’s a dramatic change for Braves pitchers. For the last 20 years, Turner Field earned a reputation as a fair park for pitchers.
The new park is playing more like old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the Braves’ first home in Atlanta which was called The Launching Pad because it was a haven for homers.
The Braves have played only 13 games at their new home, but Dickey notes the production usually only climbs with the temperatures.
“Kind of the story for a starting pitcher in this park is you can bend but you just can’t break,” Dickey said Sunday. “The ball carries a lot here, I think a lot more than any of us had ever anticipated.”
Of Dickey’s eight homers allowed this season, seven have come in Atlanta — the most for any pitcher in the majors in home games. Each of the five homers allowed by ace Julio Teheran has come at home. Teheran has an ugly 8.14 ERA in four home starts.
The Braves gave up three homers in Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Cardinals , including two by Dickey. Tommy Pham’s second homer, a two-run shot off reliever Josh Collmenter in the 14th inning, was the difference.
Dickey said it’s not too early to conclude the new park will yield a lot of homers, including some “that might seem like cheapos.”
The barrage of homers is no surprise to former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who walked into the new park and immediately joked that he retired too early.
Jones said he felt the whoosh of air in his face when he first walked onto the field from the door which opens on the center field wall. He knew in an instant that would be bad news for pitchers.
“There weren’t too many cheap homers at Turner Field,” Jones said last month. “This place, I don’t think you’re going to have to necessarily crush one to get it out of here.”
The Braves were outscored 51-26 and outhomered 12-4 in the 1-5 homestand. Atlanta pitchers already have given up 21 homers at home, a pace for 130. The most Braves pitchers allowed at Turner Field was 95.
Dickey, 42, signed with Atlanta following four seasons with Toronto, where the Rogers Centre was a home-run friendly park.
“So you certainly go from a place like that to here and you think it’s not going to be so bad, right?” Dickey said. “It’s still a small sample size so we’re not in a panic yet, but at the same time it’s similar, for sure.”
Including all games, the Braves’ 4.82 ERA ranks 29th in the majors, just ahead of Detroit’s 4.83.
Atlanta added veterans Dickey, Bartolo Colon and Jaime Garcia as a short-term fix to allow prospects time to develop. Manager Brian Snitker said the early struggles won’t force the team to rush the prospects to Atlanta.
“I think we can be real patient,” he said. “We’re running through a little stretch here, that’s all. … They’ll bounce back. They’ll make some adjustments and they’ll be OK. They always have. All those guys we’re talking about wouldn’t have been playing as long as they have if they hadn’t been able to do that.”
On the other hand, those veterans never had to pitch at SunTrust Park before this year.
Photo: (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)