Beachy, Braves blank Marlins for 14th straight win
Backed by Upton, C.J., McCann HRs, righty goes eight strong in first W
ATLANTA -- After three closely-contested, low-scoring affairs in Washington earlier this week, the Braves took most of the drama out of their 14th consecutive victory with a pair of home runs in the first inning Friday night.
That early power surge provided a welcome pressure release for starter Brandon Beachy, who turned in his strongest performance since returning from Tommy John surgery to take any remaining fight out of a Marlins team that was coming off a sweep in Pittsburgh at the hands of another division leader.
"It makes pitching a little easier when those guys work their tails off and put five up there for me early," Beachy said. "I don't have to be fine, I can go right at guys. I tip my cap to them. Glad they're on my team."
Beachy faced two batters over the minimum over eight shutout innings, as the Braves took the opener of this weekend's three-game set against the Marlins, 5-0, and improved their Majors-leading home record to 39-15. The win was Beachy's first since a shutout he turned in against the Marlins on May 17 of last year.
"Not only did he mix his pitches well, his command was getting better, and he also helped himself defensively, made a couple nice plays fielding his position and getting out of a couple potential jams," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He did a nice job. Couldn't be any happier with his performance tonight."
After yielding a leadoff single to Christian Yelich to start the game, Beachy retired the next 11 batters he faced in order, capping off that run by striking out the side in the fourth inning -- all on called third strikes. While he limited the use of his slider for the second start in a row, Beachy used his command of the strike zone to his advantage and found success with his changeup, freezing Jeff Mathis with one final offspeed offering down the center of the plate to end the eighth inning.
"That might be the last one to come, his slider, but I'm really happy with his changeup, and his breaking ball is getting better and his fastball command is getting good," Gonzalez said. "Again, it's only his third start back from the surgery at the Major League level. I think his velocity will pick up a little bit more the more he goes out there and starts feeling more and more comfortable with it."
Atlanta's two first-inning homers helped portend an early exit for Marlins starter Jacob Turner, who went seven innings in a 6-2 win over the Braves on July 10. Turner threw 96 pitches in only five innings, allowing three home runs out of five total hits with no help from Miami's stagnant offense. He had allowed just three home runs all season before Friday night's game.
Justin Upton was the first to punish one of Turner's mistakes, battling back from a two-strike hole to launch a fastball into the left-field seats for his team-leading 22nd home run of the year. After hitting just four home runs in May, June and July combined, Upton has hit six in the first eight games of August.
Three batters later, Turner had lost control of the game just one out into his start. After Freddie Freeman singled through the right side and Brian McCann reached base on an error by shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, Chris Johnson took Turner's 1-0 offering out to left-center for his second three-run home run this season.
"Early in the ballgame, I'm sure he was trying to get a strike in there, so I just kind of put a good swing on there, stayed inside it and it went over the fence," Johnson said.
Turner hit Dan Uggla with the second pitch of the next at-bat, prompting Uggla to offer a few choice words for the 22-year-old right-hander as he walked to first base. The umpires issued warnings to both teams, but the tension did not escalate into either bench clearing, and Uggla appeared to make peace with Turner as the two exchanged words at the end of the inning.
"I just didn't have great command of my fastball," Turner said. "I'd never try to throw at somebody's head like that. That's what I told him. I know that it might have looked bad, giving up a couple of homers. But it was not intentional, by any means."
McCann capped off the power exhibition with a solo shot to straightaway center to lead off the third inning. McCann is now averaging 14.59 at-bats per home run, the fewest on the team.
"It helps out when everybody's going well, because that definitely puts pressure on the pitcher," Upton said. "He's got to make his pitches, and the next guy coming up is pretty dangerous too. There's no holes, and we don't give that pitcher a break, and I think that wears on him and allows us to settle in and get good pitches."
Beachy has now pitched seven or more shutout innings four times in his career, three of which have come at the expense of the Marlins. With his fastball and changeup command returning to top form, Beachy resolved to work on building confidence with his breaking pitches in his continuing journey toward reclaiming his multi-faceted arsenal.
"His last outing, we saw him start to get it going, and today he was on fire," Upton said. "We were able to give him an early cushion so he could get to work, and he worked well all night, all eight innings."
With a series-clinching win on Saturday, the Braves would tie an Atlanta record. The 2000 team won 15 consecutive games between April 16-May 2 on its way to the franchise's ninth division title in 10 years.