Minor finds form as bats come alive
Braves post six-run third to help lefty get untracked
ATLANTA -- After giving up six runs on 10 hits in only three innings of work in a loss to the Marlins on Tuesday, embattled Braves left-hander Mike Minor said, "We scored five runs. We should have won the game."
Atlanta scored eight runs this time, but that crooked number proved to be more of a luxury than a necessity as Minor worked around eight hits and gave up only three runs -- two on solo homers -- as the Braves beat the Padres, 8-3, on Sunday evening at Turner Field.
Although Atlanta needs a victory against San Diego on Monday to finish this 11-game homestand, its longest of the season, with a winning record, the club can at least leave town with some cautious optimism regarding Minor.
When catcher Gerald Laird and Minor met to go over the Padres' lineup prior to Sunday's game, the battery decided it was best to keep things simple.
"I know you're battling some stuff out there, you're pulling through some changes, but let's just get back to the basics and pound the zone with everything," Laird told Minor. "Let's not really go over the hitters and just make pitches today. Throw pitches in the zone, make pitches, focus on keeping it simple."
Minor recorded only his third quality start in his past nine turns as he gave up three earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. The outing was a vast improvement over his 7.65 ERA and 1.94 WHIP in his previous eight starts, four of which lasted five innings or fewer.
"To go six innings-plus was a lot better than the or four that I've been throwing," Minor said. "I just feel like good right now would've been just going deeper in the game and giving the bullpen a break."
He gave up eight or more hits for the seventh time in 16 starts after allowing that many knocks only six times in 32 outings last season, but he avoided a big inning. The Padres went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and left six men on base against Minor.
"I thought he repeated his delivery every time," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I thought his breaking ball got better as the innings went by, but I think the thing that was really visible -- his arm action and his delivery was there … 90 percent of the time."
"I'm sure he probably wanted to do a little better," Laird added. "I thought he did a heck of a job, but this is something for him to build off of."
Yangervis Solarte and Rene Rivera took Minor deep in the third and sixth innings, respectively, but the third run came home when Anthony Varvaro gave up an RBI single to Tommy Medica once Minor exited the game in the top of the seventh.
"I gave up two home runs, but that's just the type of pitcher I am," Minor said. "I kind of shied away from the contact, I think, lately. Today I just wanted to go out there and attack hitters and make them earn it."
The Braves, however, fared much better with men in scoring position, finishing 6-for-9 in those situations. Most of those knocks came in Atlanta's six-run third.
Laird and Andrelton Simmons led off the frame with back-to-back doubles as Laird's two-bagger extended the catcher's hitting streak to seven games. With the score tied, 1-1, Minor struck out trying to bunt Simmons to third, but the bad news ended there.
B.J. Upton and Tommy La Stella notched back-to-back singles, putting Atlanta in the lead for good. La Stella's go-ahead single was his 24th RBI compared to 23 strikeouts.
Freddie Freeman then walked before Justin Upton struck out, setting the stage for Chris Johnson. Johnson followed by bouncing a two-run double down the right-field line for his third multi-RBI game of the homestand. He has 17 RBIs in his past 12 games, and tallied his ninth run during that same span when he scored on Ryan Doumit's two-run single.
"I thought my stuff was the same," said Eric Stults, who took the loss after allowing six earned runs in six frames. "I executed a few pitches but didn't get outs on them. I think four of those hits [of the six] were executed pitches in my mind. That's one of the frustrating things when you're out there and you get a lot of balls on the ground but a lot of them find holes."
Justin Upton capped the scoring with a two-run double in the bottom of the seventh, giving Atlanta hope that its lineup has more performances like Sunday's to come.
"It seems like we're such a streaky team," Laird said. "This is a good time to get hot right here. Push right here towards the end of July and into August and get ready for that stretch run because it's going to be fun to play. It's a matter for this team, kind of all of us to get hot."