Baseball / Sports

Braves use 'small ball' to beat Mets for 6th straight win

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves got plenty of timely hits and scored all of their runs with two outs Tuesday, extending their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 5-4 win against the Mets.

"It's nice to play small ball, steal bases, run the bases well first to third, hit-and-runs," shortstop Andrelton Simmons said after the Braves won without a homer for the fourth time in the streak. "It's been working out pretty good."

But on a night when Simmons had a two-run single in a three-run fourth inning to put the Braves ahead for good, there was one development that raised some concerns: The continued lackluster performance of pitcher Mike Minor, who gave up a pair of two-run homers to left-handed hitter, didn't make it out of the fifth inning and hasn't won since May 19.

Tommy La Stella was hit in the right foot by a pitch in the second inning and left in the eighth inning with what was diagnosed as a bruise. La Stella's injury wasn't worrsisome. Minor's ongoing struggles perhaps should be.

"I give up a home run it seems like every game now and it's killing me," said Minor, who lasted 41/3 innings and gave up nine hits, four runs and one walk with five strikeouts. "It's just bad pitches right now."

The left-hander needed 101 pitches to record 13 outs and got no decision to remain 2-5 for the season and 0-3 with a 5.21 ERA in eight starts since May 19.

Four Braves relievers retired 14 of 15 batters -- including eight strikeouts -- after Minor left the game, with Craig Kimbrel striking out the side in the ninth inning to record his 26th save.

Shae Simmons (1-0) relieved Minor with runners on the corners and one out in the fifth and retired the next two batters to protect a 5-4 lead on the way to winning his first major league decision.

"I think the MVP of the team today is the bullpen," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We covered 4 2/3 (innings) out of that bullpen today in a one-run game. That's a pretty awesome night for us down there."

Simmons retired all five batters he faced in the fifth and sixth innings, Luis Avilan pitched a perfect seventh, and Jordan Walden struck out three of four batters in the eighth.

Top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt gave the Braves a 1-0 lead with a two-out single in the second inning for his first major league RBI in his third start. Chris Johnson had singled with two out and stole second base before La Stella was hit by a Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch.

Minor gave the lead back in the next inning when Curtis Granderson hit a two-run homer, his second in as many nights and the 12th off Minor in 12 starts this season. Two innings later he gave up his 13th and nearly gave up another lead.

Gonzalez was asked how much of a concern was the mounting home runs given up by Minor.

"They are not a concern," he said, then paused and clarified. "Obviously you don't want to give them up, especially to left-handed hitters with him being a left-hander. But that's just leaving balls out over the plate."

Freddie Freeman, always a menace to the Mets, tied the game with a double off the left-field wall in the third inning, following Simmons' two-out single.

Minor had a nice cushion to work with after the Braves scored three runs in the fourth on a walk and three two-out singles, the first of those hits by Minor himself. He ripped a two-out RBI single up the middle to drive in Johnson with the go-ahead run, after Matsuzaka struck out Bethancourt looking at a third strike on the inside edge.

"It felt good," Minor said of his hit. "That's about the only thing I did well tonight. I drove in Chris Johnson and I scored."

Seeing their pitcher do some damage with the bat seemed to spark the Braves, who got two more two-out hits in the inning from B.J. Upton and Simmons, the latter driving in two runs to push the lead to 5-2. Upton had stolen second base to put himself in scoring position, his 13th steal surpassing his season total of 12 a year ago.

Upton has played in 79 of 84 Braves games this season and already surpassed his runs totals as well from a career-worst 2013 season, when he hit .184 and scored just 30 times in 126 games. He scored his 37th run Tuesday.

The veteran center fielder was batting a mere .209 before Tuesday, but his single extended his hitting streak to eight games since moving into the leadoff spot and raised his season hits total to 64, eight off his 2013 total.

Staked to a lead for the second time in the game, Minor almost gave it all back once again in the next inning, and might have if he hadn't been replaced as things started to come unraveled.

Trouble began in the fifth inning when Minor walked Ruben Tejada after getting ahead in the count 0-2. He threw him four consecutive balls on four different kinds of pitches.

Daniel Murphy homered two pitches later on a 1-0 changeup. After giving up hard-hit singles to the next two batters, Minor was replaced by Simmons, who got a fly out and strikeout to leave runners on the corners and preserve a 5-4 lead.

"Shae came in and I left him two guys on and still with two outs to get, but he closed the door," Minor said. "The rest of the guys, it's the fifth inning and I'm diving out of there and those guys are picking me up."

Gonzalez didn't have anyone else warming in the bullpen because he wanted to use Simmons in that spot. The rookie has already won the confidence of his manager and teammates in situations without much wiggle room.

"I figured if we get in trouble that inning we need somebody who is going to get a punch out or a big out," he said. "He was the only guy up. We were hoping to get what we got (from him), an inning and two-thirds."

For Minor, it was the third time in his past five starts that he lasted five or fewer innings, including each of his past two home starts.

"I felt even in my bad games I still got six (innings) at least," he said. "So right now it's kind of frustrating just because I feel pretty good early on and then I have that one inning or two innings and then it's pretty much give up the runs and I'm already at 100 pitches."

He's given up 20 hits (four homers) and seven runs in 9 1/3 innings in those past two starts at Turner Field, where Minor has allowed 10 homers in 39 2/3 innings this season.

While right-handed hitters had all of the previous 11 homers against Minor, the lefty had allowed an alarming .364 batting average by left-handed hitters before Tuesday (compared to .272 by right-handed hitters).

"It's more frustrating because the two (home run) pitches were really bad," he said. "In those situations with guys on and good hitters on I shouldn't make those bad pitches. I feel like they should be lower and they were both off-speed pitches and they just weren't executed. I think it's more frustrating because I know the situation and I know how good those guys are."

His last win was May 19 against Milwaukee, which was his fourth start of the season after spending first month on the disabled list recovering from shoulder tendinitis that flared up at the beginning of spring training.

Minor is 2-9 with a 4.53 ERA and 20 homers allowed in 18 starts since Aug. 31, 2013. This after he had gone 13-5 with a 2.99 ERA and 15 homers allowed in his first 26 starts last season. But if Gonzalez is at all worried, he's not letting on.

"I saw some really good pitches (from Minor) through the course of the game," he said. "I saw some good breaking balls. But, you know, go back out there in a couple days and get his work in in the bullpen, then run him back out."

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