Braves' power show lifts Medlen past Pirates
Right-hander fueled by three two-run homers for first win since April 9
ATLANTA -- As the Braves have rolled toward a comfortable lead in the National League East standings, they have reaped the benefits of a power-filled lineup that has yet to receive consistent contributions from B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward.
As Upton provided some encouraging signs during this past weekend's series against the Nationals, Heyward flashed his incredible potential while hitting one of the three two-run home runs that carried Kris Medlen and the Braves to Monday night's 7-2 win over the Pirates at Turner Field.
"Any time you get run support like that, you've got to take advantage," said Medlen, who had seemingly made most of his previous 11 starts this season on nights when the potent Atlanta offense proved lifeless.
With Heyward, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman all hitting two-run homers off Pirates starter A.J. Burnett, Medlen gained more than enough support to win for the first time in a span of 10 starts dating to April 9. The 2.52 runs per game the Braves had averaged in Medlen's previous 11 starts stood as the second-lowest mark for any Major League pitcher entering Monday.
As Medlen limited the Pirates to an unearned run in seven innings, he was given seven runs of support. That was 10 fewer runs than the Braves had totaled while he was still in line for a decision in each of his previous 11 starts combined.
"We haven't really hit for him when he has started," McCann said. "But when you look at a [3.14] ERA, I think there are a lot of pitchers that would take that."
The Braves, who now own a seven-game lead in the NL East race, have hit at least three home runs in 13 of their first 57 games. They did so in a total of 11 games all of last year.
After Burnett walked Freeman to begin the bottom of the fourth, McCann followed with a two-run home run that gave the Braves a lead and propelled him toward a memorable night. The six-time All-Star catcher's opposite-field single in the seventh inning was the 1,000th hit of his career.
While McCann has totaled seven home runs in the 22 games he has played since returning from offseason shoulder surgery, Heyward has struggled to find comfort since missing nearly a month after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on April 22. The 23-year-old right fielder entered Monday's game having hit .167 with two extra-base hits in the 14 games he had played since coming off the disabled list.
"We're on our way," Heyward said. "It's going to take at-bats. It's going to take feedback and it's going to take doing it. It's going to take screwing up sometimes. But the only way I can get better at it is play."
After being left out of Sunday's starting lineup, Heyward opened Monday's two-hit performance with an opposite-field single in the first. But the most encouraging at-bat, obviously, came in the fifth, when he lined Burnett's 1-0 changeup over the right-field wall. It was his third home run of the season and first since an April 16 win over the Royals.
"He had the home run and he hit the ball hard his last plate appearance with the rocket [that was caught in] center," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "So maybe that will get him going and help him get back to the old Jason Heyward that we like."
Freeman added to Burnett's frustration, when he drilled a two-run home run of his own in the fifth inning. The opposite-field shot was one of three the 23-year-old first baseman has hit in his past 20 at-bats.
The Pirates objected to home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna's strike zone throughout the early innings. Catcher Russell Martin was ejected after he took a couple steps toward the mound in the fourth. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle was ejected after voicing his displeasure a few moments later.
"We were able to lay off the pitches that were in," McCann said. "We all got in some hitters' counts there in that [fifth] inning and [Burnett] had to throw it over the plate. We were able to capitalize on that."