DENVER – The Braves have scored more runs than any other team in the majors this season, but their pitching had faltered a few too many times lately for anyone to feel entirely comfortable about the way things were headed.
That’s why Brandon Beachy’s performance Sunday made a three-game sweep against the Rockies even more satisfying than it would’ve been if the Braves had won nothing but slugfests and left Coors Field with a weary pitching staff and a red flag potentially poking through the shiny surface of their promising season.
Beachy took a one-hit shutout to the seventh inning and Freddie Freeman continue to plunder Colorado pitching during a 7-2 win that gave the Braves a three-game sweep – their first sweep at Coors Field since 2003.
“A real good outing for Beach and for the pitching staff,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, whose Braves moved to a season-high seven games above .500 (18-11). “Got to kind of resemble a baseball game instead of the last two nights. We’re leaving here with the bullpen in kind of decent shape. It doesn’t happen very often.”
The Braves overcame a 5-0 first-inning deficit to win 9-8 in 11 innings Friday, and rebounded from a 6-0 deficit after two innings to win 13-9 on Saturday. They had 42 hits and 29 runs in the series, got home runs from Freeman and Dan Uggla on Sunday, and in the series finale they finally controlled a Colorado lineup that’s been the highest-scoring home team in baseball by a wide margin.
“That’s a good team we just came in here and put a beating on,” said catcher David Ross. “Proud of the guys. Now let’s go to Chicago and see what we can do.”
The three-city trip continues with three games against the Cubs at Wrigley Field starting Monday night, and finishes at St. Louis.
The Rockies had averaged 6.8 runs per home game and scored at least five runs in 10 consecutive games at Coors before Sunday. Beachy (2-1) allowed two runs, four hits and three walks in 6-1/3 innings, and reliever Cristhian Martinez pitched 2-2/3 perfect innings for his first save of the season as the Braves won for the 18th time in 25 games.
In his only previous start at Coors Field, Beachy gave up six runs, nine hits and five walks in 4-2/3 innings last season as a rookie.
“We talked after two days of watching the games here,” catcher David Ross said, “about how you’ve got to establish that first-pitch fastball, and he did a great job. I don’t know what his percentage of strikes were on first pitches, but he was pumping the zone pretty good. And when you do that, when you establish your fastball, you’re going to be a good pitcher.”
He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the first 19 batters and retired 14 in a row before a leadoff single in the seventh inning.
“That’s one of the things I try to do,” said Beachy, who lowered his ERA to 1.62. “It makes it that much harder for them, like hitting from a hole.”
The right-hander said he approached this start without the dread he had entering his first one at Coors. He didn’t worry this time about his breaking balls not having the same bite or the baseballs being slick or anything else.
“I remembered last year,” he said. “The ball might fly a little farther, but as far as my pitches they worked pretty much the same. I kind of let that get into my head a little bit last year. Now knowing if I just stick to my game plan, if I hit some spots, I’m going to be able to get guys out. I was able to do that for those first six [innings].”
That was more than enough time for the Braves offense to build a lead, led by Colorado nemesis Freeman.
Juan Nicasio (2-1) hit the big first baseman in the ribs with a pitch in the first inning, and then Freeman hit him and Rockies in their figurative gut with a three-run homer in the third inning and a leadoff triple – his first in the majors — in the two-run sixth inning.
Freeman has a .426 career average with a jaw-dropping eight home runs and 18 RBIs in 11 games against the Rockies, including four homers in seven games at Coors Field. He has 20 home runs in 194 games against all other teams.
“I don’t know, I feel like I’m doing the same things against them than I do against the other teams,” he said, smiling. “But I guess I just hit the ball better here.”
A lot of other pitchers besides those from Colorado have felt the 22-year-old slugger’s wrath lately. Freeman has hit .364 with 14 extra-base hits (six homers) and 25 RBIs in his past 19 games.
“Freddie Freeman’s an absolute beast,” Ross said. “I mean, that guy … that guy is amazing. I’d love to be like him one day.”
It didn’t go unnoticed that the Braves won without Chipper Jones and catcher Brian McCann, who had a rest day. Before Sunday, the Braves were 12-2 with Jones in the lineup and 5-9 without.