Philadelphia – The same reason the Braves have been good for the last month or so is the same reason they’ve been so good lately against the Phillies – strong starting pitching.
They’d won seven in a row against the Phillies – their longest streak since shortly after the Olympics left Atlanta in 1996 – by getting seven wins from their starting pitchers. But Mike Minor couldn’t keep pace with what the Phillies had going in that department Tuesday night.
Cole Hamels pitched a complete-game shutout, which made Mike Minor’s three-run first inning loom large in a 3-0 loss.
“When you let (Hamels) get that far out in front of you, it puts a lot of pressure on the offense to try to string things together because he doesn’t give up a lot of homers,” said Chipper Jones, who had one of the five hits – all singles – off Hamels. “And tonight he didn’t give up too many singles either.”
The Braves dropped to 8-3 against the Phillies this season and lost for only the third time in their past 14 games.
Minor pitched six shutout innings after the first for a quality start but took only his second loss in seven starts since June 24. He has quality starts in five of his past six starts and the only exception was his last time out when a rain delay limited him to 3 2/3 innings.
But Minor said afterward he never felt like he had good command of his fastball.
“If somebody didn’t watch the game they would say ‘Hey, you did pretty well tonight,’” said Minor, now 6-8 with a 4.95 ERA. “But obviously if you watched the pitch location, I really didn’t have a whole lot tonight. I just tried to battle.”
Hamels didn’t have to do much of that. He faced the minimum through the first six innings and only two over on the night. He used his fifth career shutout, and second against the Braves (the first coming May 15, 2008), to snap the Phillies’ longest losing streak to the Braves they dropped nine in a row from Aug. 15, 1996 to July 14, 1997.
The Braves were shut out for the ninth time this season and second time by the Phillies. Joe Blanton, who’s now with the Dodgers, pitched a complete game shutout on May 3 at Turner Field, the last time the Braves lost to the Phillies before Tuesday.
Hamels walked a career-high six to take a loss the last time he faced the Braves July 27 at Turner Field. He made it only five innings on 109 pitches that night. This time he threw only two pitches more (111) in nine innings. He also didn’t walk a batter.
“You get the umpires that are a little more generous, it makes it a little easier on the pitcher,” Jones said. “But he had way better command tonight than he did in Atlanta.”
Michael Bourn dragged a bunt for a base hit to lead off the seventh, but he was stranded there. Singles by Jones (second) and Freddie Freeman (eighth) were both erased by double plays, and Brian McCann ended the fifth by getting thrown out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double.
“It was one of those nights,” Jones said. “Guy makes a lot of money for a reason. He’s pretty good.”
Minor helped set the tone for the Braves’ 18-8 July by going 2-1 with a 1.98 ERA in four starts, including a dominant eight innings against the Phillies on July 28. But he wasn’t quite the same pitcher Tuesday. Minor gave up as many hits (four) to the first seven batters Tuesday as he had in those eight innings prior.
Jimmy Rollins and Domonic Brown hit back-to-back doubles to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead to start the game. Then Ryan Howard followed with a two-run home run, his fifth in 25 games back from the disabled list.
Minor threw his fourth slider in five pitches to Howard and this time hung it. Before that swing, the Braves had kept Howard in check at 3-for-23 since his return from his Achilles injury a month ago.
“The last time I faced them, I threw him a lot of sliders and fastballs away and it was like he was guessing the whole time,” Minor said. “Even if I threw one over the middle of the plate, he either fouled it off or didn’t really get a good read on it. (But) obviously he was looking for that one, he stayed back and hit it to the opposite field.”