Braves show off power potential in win over Phils
Freeman, Uggla, J. Upton all hit home runs in Opening Day victory
ATLANTA -- If the first impression is indeed a sign of things to come, the Braves will have some fun frustrating opposing pitchers with the vast array of power hitters that fill their new-look lineup.
Freddie Freeman fueled an early power barrage against Cole Hamels, and Justin Upton introduced himself to his new hometown crowd with one of the three homers the Braves drilled on the way to opening this season with Monday night's 7-5 win over the Phillies at Turner Field.
"Hopefully, that is just the beginning," Freeman said. "We've got a very balanced lineup one through eight. It's going to be tough for pitchers to get through us."
Unfortunately for Hamels, he proved to be the first victim of this potent lineup that was upgraded this winter with the additions of B.J. Upton, who signed a five-year, $75.25 million contract in November, and Justin Upton, who was acquired from the D-backs via a seven-player trade in January.
On the way to allowing five runs in five innings, Hamels surrendered home runs to Freeman, Justin Upton and Dan Uggla. The three home runs were one more than he surrendered in 26 innings against the Braves last year and four fewer than he allowed in the 79 2/3 innings against Atlanta from 2010-12.
"They're going to hit a lot of home runs," Hamels said. "To keep them from hitting home runs, you have to keep the ball down."
Hamels' first mistake came courtesy of a low 2-1 fastball that Freeman elevated and sent to the back of the Braves' bullpen beyond the right-center-field fence. The two-run, first-inning home run marked the start of a three-hit season debut for the 23-year-old first baseman, who added a fourth-inning RBI single.
"There was a lot of energy, and we're a big energy team," Freeman said. "We like to have fun, and it's easier to have fun when you have a crowd like that."
Uggla further energized the crowd when he began the bottom of the second by turning on Hamels' 3-0 fastball and sending it deep into the left-field seats. The long blast gave the Braves an early three-run lead and provided the veteran second baseman some momentum as he attempts to bounce back from last year's frustration-filled season.
While Justin Upton's 2012 season was nowhere near as disappointing as Uggla's, he has entered this season determined to prove the D-backs were wrong to give up on him just one year removed from an MVP-caliber season.
After striking out in his first at-bat with the Braves and then lining out to deep right field in his second at-bat, Upton displayed his tremendous power potential by beginning the bottom of the fifth inning with a line-drive blast that sailed deep into the left-center-field seats.
"We had some opportunities early on in the game," Upton said. "Freddie picked me up a couple times. It just kind of rolled downhill from there. Everybody started swinging the bats pretty good. We got some knocks and were able to string some hits together."
While the home runs provided the early highlights, the Braves scored their decisive runs in the sixth inning with assistance from Chris Johnson and Gerald Laird -- a couple of offseason additions that did not generate as much hype as the Upton brothers.
After Uggla drew a walk to begin the bottom of the sixth against former Brave Chad Durbin, Johnson highlighted his two-hit Atlanta debut with a double. Laird followed with an RBI single to left-center field. Johnson then alertly raced to the plate as the Phillies turned a double play on Reed Johnson's grounder to left-handed reliever Jeremy Horst.
"We get a run there on a first-and-third double play," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It was good heads-up baserunning by C.J., because the last thing you want to do is to end up at third base with two outs. He did a nice job of reading that they turned a double play. I think we were able to steal a run there."
The offensive eruption allowed the Braves to overcome the fifth-inning struggles endured by Tim Hudson, who allowed three runs and lasted just 4 1/3 innings. The Phillies kept things interesting by scoring a run against Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning and one more against Jordan Walden in the eighth.
Chase Utley's fourth-inning leadoff homer accounted for the only damage Hudson had incurred before Hamels fueled Philadelphia's two-run fifth with a single through the left side. Ben Revere followed with an 11-pitch walk that seemed to deflate Hudson, who exited when Jimmy Rollins and Utley followed with consecutive singles.
After Utley's two-run single brought the Phillies to within 4-3 and put runners at second and third base, the Braves called upon left-handed reliever Luis Avilan, who promptly struck out Ryan Howard. Avilan then intentionally walked Michael Young to load the bases before getting Domonic Brown to ground out to end the inning.
Avilan's ability to kill the fifth-inning threat and work a scoreless sixth allowed the raucous crowd to celebrate the arrival of this promising season in fitting fashion.
"It was amazing," Chris Johnson said. "That was awesome. I was speechless at the beginning of the game. I was a little amped up during my first at-bat. I calmed down a little bit of course. It was a ton of fun."