Baseball / Sports

Santana powers Braves to victory over Marlins

ATLANTA -- When Donovan Solano's line drive glanced off shortstop Andrelton Simmons' glove for a hit in the eighth inning Wednesday, Braves pitcher Ervin Santana smacked his glove and hopped in the air.

It's no wonder Santana wanted to finish the inning. The Marlins couldn't do much of anything against Santana all night while losing 6-1 to the Braves at Turner Field.

Solano's hit was one of just six by the Marlins over 7 1/3 innings against Santana (9-6). He left the game to a standing ovation from fans who appreciated his 10 strikeouts and one run allowed.

Santana started the season strong for the Braves after they signed him to a free-agent contract during the offseason. After some rough patches in May and June he appears to be rounding into good form.

"He threw the ball really well," Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. "He had all three of his pitches working, he had both sides of the plate with his fastball command going good. That's the guy we signed. He had a few hiccups here and there but tonight he was commanding the (strike) zone."

The Braves rode Santana's strong start plus early production from the top of the lineup against Marlins right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (5-6).

Over the first two innings leadoff man B.J. Upton had two hits and two runs scored and No. 2 hitter Tommy La Stella had an RBI single and a sacrifice that set up the first run. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, the No. 3 hitter, broke out of a power slump with a three-run homer that staked Santana to a 5-0 lead in the second inning.

"B.J. set the table again tonight," Freeman said. "He's been doing that since he got in the lead-off spot. He's been awesome. We were able to manufacture a run in the first inning and then got a few more in the second and that's all 'Magic' (Santana) needed tonight."

The Braves (55-46) evened their season record against the Marlins (47-53) to 6-6 with the final game of this series on Thursday. The Marlins won the opening two games after stumbling into Atlanta with losses six of their previous seven games.

Before Wednesday's game, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez made the case that the Marlins are a deceptively good club with solid young hitters and quality pitching. Then the Braves went out and clubbed the Marlins like the standings and expectations suggest they should.

Santana was in command from the start while retiring the first six batters in order. Santana allowed an RBI single to Christian Yelich in the third inning but, from there, no Marlins made it past first base against him until Solano's single in the eighth moved Yelich to third.

Santana walked three batters and threw 76 of his 110 pitches for strikes.

"He pitched well, he really did," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We were trying to push him in the game a little bit because of the situation with our bullpen, because the last couple nights we had to cover some innings out of there. And he gave us everything he had."

The Braves backed Santana with plenty of runs early. They used small ball to build a 2-0 lead then broke the game open on Freeman's homer.

B.J. Upton led off the game with a double for the second straight night then moved to third on Tommy La Stella's sacrifice. B.J. Upton scored on Justin Upton's sacrifice fly to left.

In the second inning Simmons singled, went to second on Santana's sacrifice and scored on La Stella's two-out RBI single. Freeman then drove Nathan Eovaldi's breaking ball high over the wall in right for the kind of opposite-field home run that he usually hits with regularity.

Freeman had just one hit in his previous six games entering Wednesday.

"Obviously it feels good," Freeman said. "I've been working hard the last couple weeks trying to get the swing back. It kind if disappeared on me in Chicago. In (batting practice) today I was driving the ball to left-center again and I was able to carry over into the game is definitely a nice thing. Hopefully I can keep that going."

It was Freeman's first home run since June 27 at Philadelphia, a stretch that includes 21 games, and just his third hit in 45 at-bats against the Marlins this season to that point.

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

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