Harang wins duel, series in stellar Braves debut
Vet holds Brewers hitless through six; Johnson provides decisive HR
MILWAUKEE -- Matt Garza was good -- very good -- in his first start for the Milwaukee Brewers. Fortunately for the Braves, Aaron Harang was one pitch better.
The two veteran free-agent acquisitions, each making his debut for a new team, matched no-hitters for six innings before the Braves finally broke through in the seventh on Chris Johnson's solo home run, which was enough to give Atlanta 1-0 victory over the Brewers on Wednesday at Miller Park.
"I was just able to come out and keep them off balance and keep their team guessing," said Harang, who was signed in late March to bolster the Braves injury-riddled pitching staff. "And obviously, you see their guy throwing up numbers like that, you're trying to do the same thing and give your team a chance to win. I was able to do that and we came out with a victory."
Garza was almost as effective for the Brewers, retiring the first 14 batters before walking Freddie Freeman with two outs in the fourth. He did not allow a hit until two outs in the seventh, when Johnson ripped a 1-0 pitch over the left-field wall for his first homer.
"I think he was trying to go away, and it just kind of crept back over the plate and got a good part of the plate, and I was able to put a good swing on it," said Johnson. "One run in those kinds of games; you get to like the fourth or fifth inning and it's like, 'Let's see who can get a run first.'"
Harang's no-hit bid ended when Logan Schafer singled up the middle to open the seventh. Schafer was forced out at second when Ryan Braun reached on a fielder's choice. Aramis Ramirez then singled Braun to third before Harang retired Jonathan Lucroy on a popout to second. Harang gave way to Luis Avilan, who retired pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks on a bouncer to third.
"After the first hit Schafer got, the emotions kind of just run out of you for a minute," Harang said. "Knowing that you've got a 1-0 lead, you've got to stay in there and regain your focus and keep executing pitches. Schafer got on [and] I knew I had to buckle down, because they had the heart of their lineup coming up. The bullpen was able to get me out of that jam and slam the door today."
Other than Johnson's home run, Garza allowed only an eighth-inning single to Gerald Laird, striking out seven and walking one before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth.
"One mistake and that's it," said Garza, who went 10-6 last season with a 3.82 ERA in a combined 24 starts between the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. "This is the big leagues. You have to pay for things like that, especially to a four-hole hitter. You just tip your cap, because the other guy pitched one hell of a game, too. They're a great ballclub and they're missing some key guys."
Harang allowed just one baserunner through the first six innings, a one-out walk to Lyle Overbay in the third. Overbay was sacrificed to second by Garza, but Harang struck out Carlos Gomez to end the threat.
Harang, who was 5-11 last season in 22 starts with Seattle and then 0-1 in four late-season starts with the Mets, began the 2014 Spring Training with the Cleveland Indians, going 2-1 with a 4.91 ERA in five appearances (three starts) before being released. He was signed the same day by the Braves, who released veteran Freddy Garcia to make room for Harang.
"It was a huge pickup for us," Johnson said. "We were struggling with having guys go down -- and we're going to struggle trying to get guys healthy and get guys back -- so to have performances like that … I mean, you can't ask him to go out and throw seven innings, no hits every time, but he did amazing today and that's just what we needed."
Schafer said Harang was effectively deceptive.
"We figured as soon as we'd get one or two hits, they all would start falling for us," Schafer said. "We had a lot of good at-bats before mine in the seventh, we just hadn't had any hits yet. I was up there leading off the inning, just trying to get baserunners."
Craig Kimbrel, who struck out all three batters he faced on Tuesday night to save the Braves' 5-2 victory, retired three straight again in the ninth for his second save. On Wednesday, the trio of Avilan, David Carpenter and Kimbrel retired all seven batters they faced.
"You get that type of start from your starter, and he handed it to our bullpen, who's done a good job all the way last year and the first couple games this year, you have a good chance to win a ballgame," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "What have we given up, three runs this series, and end up winning two out of three, that's pretty darn good baseball right there."