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Braves hold on after Anibal flummoxes Padres

Veteran righty fires seven scoreless innings in opener
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Nearly three months after signing a Minor League deal to seemingly serve as just a short-term fix within Atlanta's rotation, a rejuvenated Anibal Sanchez finds himself as the creator of a good problem the Braves now have regarding their enviably deep rotation.

"We've got a good problem because we've got more starters than we can probably use right now," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "That's something a lot of teams can't say. There are going to be some tough decisions."

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ATLANTA -- Nearly three months after signing a Minor League deal to seemingly serve as just a short-term fix within Atlanta's rotation, a rejuvenated Anibal Sanchez finds himself as the creator of a good problem the Braves now have regarding their enviably deep rotation.

"We've got a good problem because we've got more starters than we can probably use right now," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "That's something a lot of teams can't say. There are going to be some tough decisions."

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As the Braves claimed Thursday night's 4-2 win over the Padres at SunTrust Park, they benefited from a replay review that upheld a hit-by-pitch ruling that surprised even Tyler Flowers, the guy who was supposedly hit. But the tone of the evening was set by Sanchez, who scattered four hits over seven scoreless innings and seemingly earned the right to stay in Atlanta's rotation.

"Every single year is a blessing," said the 34-year-old Sanchez. "I thank God I'm here and I've got a uniform right now for the Braves. I want to do my best every five days."

Sanchez was released by the Twins during Spring Training after posting a 5.54 ERA as a starter for the Tigers over the past three years. He likely wouldn't have even been on the Braves radar had Scott Kazmir not become the best option to replace the injured Luiz Gohara in Atlanta's rotation to begin this season.

But now that Sanchez has posted a 2.10 ERA through six starts this year and surrendered just two runs over 19 1/3 innings this month, the Braves have little reason to remove him from the rotation. But with Mike Soroka back from the disabled list and Julio Teheran set to be activated Sunday, Snitker has a surplus within his five-man starting staff.

Video: SD@ATL: Sanchez fans Reyes to collect 1st K of game

A decision does not have to be made immediately because the Braves have a pair of off-days next week. Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Soroka and Teheran likely will fill four of those rotation spots. Now the Braves must decide how to use Sanchez and Brandon McCarthy, who will start Friday's game.

Sanchez certainly enhanced his bid to stay within the rotation as he limited the Padres to one baserunner through the first five innings and pitched around doubles he surrendered in the sixth and seventh innings.

"Every time you have a good game like that, you feel good," Sanchez said. "I'm prepared and really focused on what I'm going to do during the games. I'm just trying to enjoy right now what I'm doing."

A.J. Ellis' leadoff double and Jose Pirela's one-out single gave the Padres runners at the corners with one out in the sixth. Sanchez escaped that threat unscathed, then pitched around Franmil Reyes' one-out double in the seventh. He has limited opponents to a .191 batting average (9-for-47) with runners on base this year.

Video: SD@ATL: Sanchez escapes a jam unscathed in the 6th

"He has a lot of confidence in himself," Snitker said. "He never gives in to hitters. His command has been great. He's been a welcome guy."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Unique seventh inning: Once Dan Winkler allowed the Padres to pull within one run on Eric Hosmer's two-out double in the eighth, there was more focus placed on what transpired in the seventh, after home-plate umpire Mark Ripperger ruled Flowers was nicked on the hand by Tyson Ross' pitch. Flowers said he wasn't hit, and the Padres challenged the ruling. The call stood after a two-minute, 39-second review.

Video: SD@ATL: Flowers hit by a pitch after review

"I told [Ripperger] I didn't think it hit me," Flowers said. "The more I thought about it and then seeing the replay, I know it hit something. It might have been me. I wear so many guards and stuff. It might have nicked one of those."

Flowers ended up scoring what turned out to be the decisive run when Hosmer ranged to his right to field Ender Inciarte's grounder. Had Hosmer thrown to third base or at least looked Flowers back, he might have recorded an out and prevented a run, because Johan Camargo was charging hard from second to third base. But when he flipped behind him to Pirela, who covered first base, Flowers broke toward the plate and scored in uncontested fashion.

Video: SD@ATL: Inciarte plates Flowers with a groundout

"Flowers said probably five times that he wasn't hit," Padres manager Andy Green said. "The replay said he wasn't hit. It's those moments as a manager that you aren't even sure why you have replay. It was blatantly obvious that it didn't hit him.

"It changes the game. It took us a while to get fighting, but it turns out to be the go-ahead run. It changes the way we manage the bullpen. It changes the way we go after everything. That's frustrating."

SOUND SMART
The Braves have won eight straight games against the Padres in Atlanta and are 17-6 against them at home since the start of 2012. They have gone 4-17 in San Diego within this same span. While winning the first three games of this homestand, the Braves have improved to 40-28 and lead the National League East by a game and a half. This is the first time since 2003 they have tallied 40 wins through a season's first 68 games.

Video: SD@ATL: Inciarte, Sanchez on victory over Padres

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Inciarte tallied the game's first run when he notched an infield single and came around to score on Ozzie Albies' hustle double in the third inning.

Video: SD@ATL: Albies opens the scoring with an RBI double

The Braves' center fielder then gained a confidence-booster when he drilled a 378-foot home run down the right-field line in the fifth inning. He entered the day hitting .188 (16-for-85) over his past 22 games, and just four of the seven hits he had previously notched this month had an exit velocity above 70 mph.

Video: SD@ATL: Inciarte belts a solo shot to right field

"I'm just trying to help the team and do my best to help the team score runs," Inciarte said. "We have a pretty good offense. You can see a lot of guys on any night doing some work for the team. I'm glad I was able to help tonight."

HE SAID IT
"His heart rate doesn't go up. He just keeps pitching. I think he takes it a pitch at a time. He went through a tough spot in their order. They had the deck stacked in their favor right there. He just keeps making pitches and doesn't get caught up in the moment." -- Snitker, on Sanchez

Video: SD@ATL: Snitker on Sanchez's start in win over Padres

UP NEXT
Freddie Freeman will attempt to enhance his MVP credentials when the Braves host the Padres on Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET. Freeman is among the National League leaders in nearly every major statistical category and will attempt to improve his "vs. lefty" batting average against Padres southpaw Clayton Richard, who has a 3.04 ERA over his past seven starts. Atlanta will counter with Brandon McCarthy, who allowed a season-high three homers against the Dodgers in his last start.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Anibal Sanchez