VIERA, Fla. — In Mike Minor’s last start against big-leaguers before next week’s opening series, the Braves left-hander got a reminder that patient hitters make you throw strikes and gladly accept walks.
He issued five walks and was charged with four runs and four hits in 5-1/3 innings of a 6-3 loss Thursday against the Washington Nationals. All the runs against Minor came in the sixth inning when he faced five hitters, walked two, and gave up two hits including a Ryan Zimmerman homer.
“I think they’re just good hitters,” said Minor, who had six strikeouts and said he felt strong. “A lot of those guys were taking a lot of the pitches I thought were quality pitches on 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, working the count. Seemed like they were aggressive early and working the count late. That’s where I walked I think five guys today.”
After walking only five batters in 14 scoreless innings in his first four Grapefruit League starts, Minor has nine walks in 10 innings over his past two starts, with seven hits and seven runs (six earned). The last two runs charged to him came after reliever Cory Gearrin gave up a bases-loaded walk and triple to the first two batters he faced.
“I felt great the whole game,” Minor said. “It’s one of the better days I’ve had [physically], so I had no excuse. They’re just really good hitters. They’ve had a lot of [at-bats] and you can just tell, they were sitting back and not swinging at what I felt were quality pitches.”
He retired the first six batters and had five strikeouts in the first three innings, including consecutive strikeouts after a hit and walk to start the third. He got out of that jam and another in the fourth, when he induced a double-play grounder by Xavier Nady after giving up a one-out walk and a single.
““He was pretty darn good, in my opinion,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He commanded both sides of the plate against some pretty good right-handed hitters. It was good for him to have to get up and down six times [work into the sixth inning]. That’s a goal you want to get to with each pitcher.”
The walks didn’t hurt him until the sixth, when Danny Espinosa drew a leadoff walk and Zimmerman followed with the first homer in 24 innings off Minor this spring. After striking out Jayson Werth, Minor walked Adam LaRoche before Nady singled and Gonzalez brought in Gearrin.
Gonzalez said Thursday that Minor would start a game in the opening series at New York against the Mets, who have a lot of left-handed hitters. The manager hasn’t disclosed his Opening Day starter for Thursday or the rotation order, but Minor on regular rest would be in line to start Sunday’s series finale against the Mets.
Minor will have one more tuneup against the Braves’ “Future Stars” team on Tuesday at Triple-A Gwinnett’s Coolray Field. He said he’s eager to get the season started.
“I feel ready,” he said. “Today was another good day — I got stretched out a little bit more and felt like I had more endurance. I felt good throughout the whole game, even when I got taken out. Even though I wasn’t throwing strikes my arm and my body felt conditioned.
“I’m anxious just to get the season going and have games that count and have your starting lineup out there, all the guys going at once.”
Rough day for Gearrin
After having his first bad outing of the spring Tuesday against the Mets, the last thing Gearrin wanted was to walk the first batter he faced Thursday. Especially since there were two runners on base and one out in the sixth when he replaced Minor.
The rookie sidearmer walked Wilson Ramos, and Brett Carroll followed with a triple off the right-center wall. Carroll cleared the bases and scored a fourth run on the play after shortstop Jack Wilson’s throwing error.
Gearrin recorded two outs and was charged with two earned runs, two hits and two walks and recording two outs. This after allowing two earned runs in two-thirds of an inning Tuesday against the Mets.
“It doesn’t matter when — you never want to have an outing like that,” said Gearrin, competing for one of two openings in the bullpen. “But it’s part of the game. I just have to adjust, learn from today and move on…. Obviously that walk to start is not what I’m wanting. I’ve got to make a better pitch to start that count right there with the bases loaded.”
Gearrin has been charged with four earned runs and four walks in 1-1/3 innings over his past two games, after allowing no earned runs and three walks in 9-1/3 innings during his first nine appearances.
“Just keep running him out there,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the situation he’s going to have to help us in — come in and get a ground ball, get a groundball double play. The last couple of times it hasn’t happened, but we’ll keep running him out there.”