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Braves ponder reasons for dramatic shift in Miami

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MIAMI -- Aaron Harang did not accuse the Marlins of stealing signs after he surrendered a career-high nine earned runs on Wednesday night and bid adieu to the honor of owning Major League Baseball's best ERA. But given that Alex Wood had also suffered an unexpected sound beating 24 hours earlier, Harang and many other Braves were at least suspicious of what might be going on at Marlins Park.

"If you would have taken a look at our dugout at one point in the game, in the fourth or fifth inning when they were hitting balls everywhere, we've got three guys looking at the scoreboard and you've got two guys looking at their bullpen," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I'm [calling bullpen coach Eddie Perez] saying, 'Do you see anything?' I'm looking at [catcher Evan Gattis], thinking maybe he's tipping his pitches. [Bench coach Carlos Tosca] is looking at their bench, thinking somebody is whistling.

"We haven't seen that [against our starting pitchers this year], and then somebody picks up the stats and they say, 'They are hitting almost 100 points better at home than they are on the road.' So yeah, you're always thinking conspiracy theory. But at the end, we came up with nothing."

After surrendering 28 earned runs in this season's previous 24 games, the Braves' starting rotation allowed 15 earned runs during the first two games of this week's series against the Marlins, who own MLB's second-best home batting average (.307) and fourth-worst road batting average (.215).

During Tuesday's loss, Wood surrendered more runs (seven) in five innings than he had in the 35 innings that had encompassed his previous five starts. Just one week earlier in Atlanta, he had notched 11 strikeouts and limited this same Marlins lineup to one run over eight innings.

The nine runs surrendered by Harang were triple the total he had surrendered in his previous five starts combined. Harang's ERA rose from 0.85 to 2.97.

During Harang's miserable outing, the Braves switched signs at least five times and told Gattis to begin using multiple signs with nobody on base. In addition, they acquitted a suspiciously dressed fan once the Marlins extended their barrage after he exited his outfield seat to visit a nearby concession stand.

The conspiracy theory has also been weakened by the fact the Marlins tallied just three runs in the 6 1/3 innings Atlanta's bullpen completed during the first two games of the series. With this in mind, the offensive barrages might have been simply a product of two starting pitchers having bad outings on consecutive nights.

"When you go back-to-back days, that's when you start thinking conspiracy theory," Gonzalez said. "But at the end, we've got 20-30 guys in [the dugout] and all kinds of video cameras ourselves. and we came up with nothing."

As Harang walked off the mound with two outs in Wednesday's fifth inning, he uttered some frustration-filled comments that weren't aimed toward Gattis or plate umpire Sean Barber. Instead, they were just a product of being baffled that he had just been soundly beaten by the same team that he had limited to one run while notching 11 strikeouts in six innings just one week earlier.

While Harang was suspicious that the Marlins were relaying signs, he spent time on Thursday afternoon reviewing his start to see if he might have been tipping some of his pitches.

"They were taking good swings at good pitches and then looking terrible on other pitches, completely different than last week," Harang said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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