Baseball / Sports

Santana and Braves defeat Cubs with small ball

?ATLANTA -- Ervin Santana had waited nine days to get back on the mound, he wasn't going to let a 67-minute rain delay deter him.

After skipping a start to rest a jammed thumb, Santana returned Saturday night to take on Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs, working in and around a lengthy rain delay.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said they came five or 10 minutes from shutting Santana down, but play resumed just in time for him to complete seven scoreless innings and outlast Samardzija, who worked six scoreless.

The Braves' offense continued its quest to improve on situational hitting with a little small ball to claim a second straight win in the series, 2-0.

"It's a typical Santana outing," said Ryan Doumit, who gave him the lead with a pinch-hit RBI double. "We've come to expect that. He's a guy that every time he toes the rubber, he gives us a chance to win. He's the type of guy you want to play behind."

The Braves returned the favor by manufacturing two runs for Santana in the bottom of the seventh, both off reliever Brian Schlitter. They turned a bloop single by Chris Johnson into a rally after B.J. Upton bunted him to second base. Doumit's double off the left field wall gave the Braves a 1-0 lead. They doubled it to 2-0 by executing the perfect suicide squeeze.

Tyler Pastornicky laid down a bunt back toward the mound as Andrelton Simmons raced home from third base, giving a typically homer-happy lineup, reason to chuckle.

"We haven't all clicked at once," Doumit said. "I think we're starting to show that we can, and once we do, it's really going to be scary."

The Braves have won two straight games without a home run, something they've done only five times all season.

"When you're not scoring runs offensively, every little run that you can scratch is big," Gonzalez said. "Santana was terrific, better than terrific really. You throw in an hour-plus rain delay and he's throwing in the cage just to stay loose."

David Carpenter and Craig Kimbrel each pitched a scoreless inning to combine on the Braves' fifth shutout of the year. Kimbrel bounced back from a blown save Friday night by working around a two-out walk for his 10th save. He's now six shy of breaking John Smoltz's franchise record.

Samardzija (0-3) walked off winless for the eighth time this season, despite lowering his ERA to 1.45, second best to Johnny Cueto (1.43) in the majors. The Braves weren't in a sympathetic mood, though, as they were trying to get stack on track after snapping a seven-game losing streak.

The Braves have won three of four games and just secured their first series win since sweeping the Reds April 25-27.

Santana, now 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA, limited the Cubs to five hits in seven innings, walked one and struck out seven. Santana has given up seven earned runs in 7 2/3 innings after he jammed his thumb April 25 against the Reds and tried to pitch through it in Miami. Otherwise, he's allowed only two earned runs in 33 innings (0.55 ERA). The Braves have won five of his six starts overall.

"I had a much better feel and more energy," said Santana, comparing Saturday night to his previous start in Miami. "The ball was coming out very good."

Santana recorded groundball outs for five of his six outs before rain delayed the game after two innings. He came back even nastier, using the first of four straight strikeouts to strand Ryan Kalish at third in the fourth inning.

Santana said throwing three simulated innings indoors during the delay helped him get into rhythm.

"My location was much better, my offspeed, and my fastball in was better," Santana said.

He was just glad he got the chance to go back out.

"It was tough because of the rain, but at the same time, I was waiting for any decision that they made because I was waiting for a long time," Santana said. "They made the right decision."

Justin Upton's back tightened up after he collided with Anthony Rizzo, tagging him out on a rundown to help Santana out of the fourth inning jam. He was able to stay in the game and singled in his next at-bat. But Upton left in the sixth inning after Samardzija hit him in the same area with a 94 mph fastball. He is day to day with a lower back muscle contusion.

(c)2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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