NEW YORK — Mike Minor took a four-hit shutout to the eighth inning against the Yankees a week ago, but a bullpen implosion reduced his performance to a footnote.
On Monday night in the Bronx, Minor didn’t need any reliever to turn his good early work to ashes and a loss. He did it himself.
After being staked to an early lead and recording 12 outs in the first 12 batters, the left-hander gave up three runs in the fifth inning to blow the lead and send the surging Yankees past the Braves 6-2. The win gave the Yankees their first 10-game winning streak since 2005 and the Braves their seventh loss in eight games.
“We’ve got to get past that,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, referring to Minor’s tendency to run into a wall in a middle inning.
The loss also plunged the Braves’ record on Mondays to an inexplicable 0-10. They have totaled 16 runs in those games. The Braves have a 35-22 record the rest of the week, though lately it hasn’t much mattered what day it’s been — they’ve scored 16 runs in their past eight games.
“We haven’t battled at-bats like we were doing early on,” said Gonzalez, whose team has hit .163 and scored two runs in its last three games combined. “Stick your nose in there and battle. You see it in spurts. You see it from a couple of guys, then somebody will make a good play or we’ll hit into a double play and don’t keep the line moving.
“And that’s what we need. We need some tough outs, tough at-bats, aggressive in the strike zone. And we’ll do it. We’ve got the guys to do it.”
CC Sabathia (9-3) threw a seven-hit complete game with 10 strikeouts for the Yankees, just the latest pitcher to hold the punchless Braves under his thumb for all or most of a night.
Derek Jeter’s two-run, two-out, full-count single put the Yankees ahead 3-2 in the fifth, after Russell Martin’s RBI double earlier in the inning. Minor (3-5) labored through an eight-batter, three-hit, two-walk inning, then was brought back out for the sixth and gave up a Mark Teixeira leadoff homer.
“I felt good every batter, but I did have that one inning that was kind of shaky,” Minor said. “I couldn’t get the ball down and I started spiking my breaking stuff, so a couple of guys got walked and it was a big hit for Jeter.”
Teixeira’s homer was the 14th allowed by Minor in 48 2/3 innings over his past nine starts, one more homer than he gave up in 123 1/3 major league innings before this season. Jeter added a two-out RBI single off Kris Medlen in the seventh and has a .351 career average in 26 interleague games against the Braves.
Robinson Cano also homered for the Yankees, a solo shot off Anthony Varvaro in the eighth.
The Braves ended a 20-inning scoreless streak when Michael Bourn led off the game with a triple and Martin Prado grounded out to drive him in. Sabathia had thrown four pitches and trailed 1-0.
Six days earlier, Matt Diaz’s three-run double in the first inning gave the Braves the early lead against Sabathia. On Monday the Braves pushed their lead to 2-0 in in the fifth when Heyward and rookie Andrelton Simmons hit back-to-back singles to start the inning and Bourn singled in a run with one out.
Bourn had only hit for the Braves in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position, continuing a trend for their recently unproductive offense. Their hitters are 9-for-54 (.167) with runners in scoring position during the eight-game slump.
‘We had some opportunities earlier in the game to get CC,” Gonzalez said, “and like he always does he just kept getting stronger and tougher as the game goes on. We got first and second a couple of times and didn’t get but one run, and he got better and stronger. Then we gave up a couple of runs late for them to add on, and we just couldn’t get anything going.”
The Braves failed to score after getting a walk and hit to start the fourth inning, then got only one hit in the fifth when three of their first four batters had singles. Sabathia used 116 pitches (84 strikes) to churn out his 34th complete game and first of 2012.
Minor was charged with four hits, four runs and three walks in 4 2/3 innings, with seven strikeouts. Until the fifth he had allowed only one baserunner, an Alex Rodriguez leadoff walk in the second. Rodriguez was erased when Minor induced a double-player grounder by Cano.
In the fifth inning, Rodriguez had a leadoff single to give the Yankees their first hit of the night. It was Rodriguez who hit the grand slam off Jonny Venters last Tuesday, when Venters relieved Minor and gave up a single and walk to the first two batters he faced to load the bases.
Last week’s start was the second strong one in a row for Minor. He was 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA and .200 opponents’ average in his past two starts before Monday, after going 0-3 with a 9.95 ERA and .326 OA in the six previous.
He kept the good run going for four innings Monday, but then hit a wall. The same has happened to him several other times this season, when his pitch command suddenly abandoned him after a couple of walks or hits began an inning.
Asked how Minor could improve and start avoiding those rocky innings, Gonzalez said, “Keep running him out there. We ran him back out there in the sixth just to get him through that stuff. We see it a lot with pitchers. He’s plenty good enough to get through that lineup. We’ve seen it in spurts, now we’ve got to get him to rattle off four or five starts in a row to get him through that stuff.”